Cassidy clenched her jaw. What part of go away didn’t that jerk understand? Before she even realized what she was doing, she grabbed the knob and yanked open the door.
“I told you, Darcy doesn’t want to talk—”
Del Vecchio didn’t let her finish. Instead, he grabbed her arm and shoved her back from the doorway. Cassidy barely had time to wonder what the hell he was doing, much less open her mouth to ask, when he lifted a knife and plunged it into her chest. She heard a scream, but didn’t know if it came from her or Darcy. All she could focus on was the white hot pain searing through her body.
This gorgeous guy was a ghost hunter? She took in his chiseled jaw with its hint of stubble and wide, sensuous mouth before letting her gaze move lower to admire the broad shoulders and long legs that completed the package. No way was he a ghost hunter, not with those looks and that body. More like Sleepy Hollow’s resident model.
“Are we going to a haunted house?” she asked.
To her surprise, it was Trace who answered. “It’s a house, but it probably isn’t haunted.”
She frowned. “We’re going to a house that isn’t haunted?”
“I said we’re going to a house that probably isn’t haunted.”
Her frown deepened. That didn’t make sense. “Let me get this straight. I’m crammed into an SUV with a team of ghost hunters so we can drive for an hour to check out a house that probably isn’t even haunted? What’s the point of that?”
Trace shrugged. “Well, we could have gone to the nearest unhaunted house down the street, but I want you to feel as if you’re getting your money’s worth so an hour-long drive seems about right. I’m throwing in the crowded SUV for free.”
Once they got to the bedroom, Trace pulled out his EMF meter and turned it on. Cassidy leaned closer to get a better look and was surprised when the needle barely moved a quarter of an inch.
“That’s it?” she asked. “That’s your big ghost. How scary.”
Trace slanted her a hard look. “Yeah, I know. You could always go wait in the Hummer if you’re too afraid.”
She gave him a sweet smile. “I think I can keep it together.”
Cassidy ignored his sarcastic tone and looked around the room. “If the EMF meter is picking up a ghost, where is it?”
Trace glanced at her as put the meter back in the duffel bag he had slung over his shoulder. “I never said it was a ghost. I said I picked up some readings.”
He shrugged. “Residual energy, maybe. This is a bedroom, so it isn’t surprising there might be some still hanging around.”
She frowned. “Why would there be residual energy in a bedroom?”
His mouth quirked. “If I have to explain that to you, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing romance books.”
Cassidy’s face went red as she realized what he meant. She’d walked right into that one.
She took a deep breath and was about to charge up the steps when she heard booted feet racing down them. Cassidy didn’t know if it was Trace or Wes or both of them. All she saw was the bright beam of a flashlight bouncing around. The next thing she knew, someone vaulted over the side of the railing to land on the floor with a loud thud right beside her.
Cassidy barely had time to realize it was Trace who had come to their rescue, complete with sawed-off shotgun in hand, before the ghost charged down the steps toward her. Trace moved faster than she would have thought possible, throwing himself in front of her, his shotgun at the ready. She had only a second to wonder what the hell good a shotgun was going to be against a ghost before Trace fired. She braced herself, waiting for the apparition to pass through Trace and give her another jolt, but to her amazement, the ghost disappeared in a flash of light.
Changing into a tank top and a pair of shorts, she took her mug of tea over to the kitchen table and turned on her laptop, then tried to lose herself in her romance novel. It worked for a little while, but the moment the sun went down, she got nervous again. Every time someone slammed a door or honked a car horn, she almost jumped off the seat. It didn’t help that she was writing a scene where the heroine was being chased by the evil ghost dead set on possessing her.
Deciding to skip ahead and work on a sex scene instead, Cassidy scrolled down to a new page. She’d written the chapter heading and was about to start typing when the screen suddenly went black. Frowning, she checked the power button and saw that the little blue light was still on. That was odd. Then again, the computer was a few years old. Praying it hadn’t picked now to quit on her, she was moving her finger back and forth over the touch pad hoping to coax her laptop back to life, when she saw Del Vecchio’s reflection suddenly appear in the screen.
Letting out a scream, she whirled around in her chair, expecting to see the psycho killer’s ghost standing behind her, but there was nothing there. Telling herself she was imagining things, she turned back to her laptop. Whatever glitch had made the computer act weird must have been gone because her word processing program was back up, the blinking cursor right where she’d left it.
Sighing, she leaned forward to start typing only to freeze when words suddenly began to appear on the screen of their own accord. Cassidy stared at them in horror.
Time to die, bitch.
Cassidy began to tremble. Oh God, Del Vecchio was there in the apartment with her.
Giving the place one more look to make sure Del Vecchio hadn’t come back, Trace carried her out of the apartment and right passed the alarmed neighbors who had come out into the hallway to see what the ruckus was all about. Trace imagined they got their money’s worth seeing a big guy with a shotgun and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder carrying a beautiful half-naked woman in his arms. He abruptly realized he probably should have taken a few minutes to let Cassidy grab some clothes. But then the lights in the hallway flickered and he decided he could get her clothes later. They were getting the hell out of there.
“Is she being kidnapped?” one elderly woman asked another in a low voice as he and Cassidy passed them.
“If she is,” said the other old woman, “then I want to want to be kidnapped next.”
Any other time, Trace would have laughed, but right now all he wanted to do was get Cassidy someplace safe. Fortunately, he knew exactly where to take her.
She changed her mind about what the parts on the kitchen table belonged to when she noticed there was a half-assembled motorcycle parked in one corner of the living room, along with an assortment of workout gear and a punching bag. If that didn’t tell her Trace spent little time in the presence of the fairer sex, the big stack of empty pizza boxes on the kitchen counter would have.
Trace must have noticed the direction of her gaze because he gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry about the mess. I didn’t have a chance to clean up. I wasn’t planning on having visitors.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She smiled. “I think the pizza boxes add a nice touch to the place.”
Trace pressed his cheek to the top of her head. “How long have you had the nightmares?”
She curled her fingers around the material of his T-shirt. “From the moment I woke up in the hospital. Seeing Del Vecchio’s ghost has made them worse than ever. He keeps coming after me over and over with that knife…”
A shudder went through her body and his arms tightened around her. “I won’t let him hurt you, Cassidy. I promise.”
She looked up at him, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “Will you stay with me? Just until I fall asleep? Please.”
At the pleading look she gave him, he couldn’t say no. “Of course.”
She relaxed against his chest again. Trace leaned back against the headboard and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d held a woman in his arms, especially one who was so beautiful or needed his help so badly.
That was when she realized she wasn’t lying on a pillow. She was lying on something a lot firmer and a lot warmer than a pillow. She was lying on Trace’s chest. Oh man, she had fallen asleep on him last night and he had let her stay there. Talk about awkward.
She lifted her head ever so slightly, hoping Trace was still asleep and she could slide off his chest without him noticing. No such luck. Not only was he awake, but he was smiling at her as if it were the most comfortable position he’d ever slept in. Considering he’d obviously spent the whole night leaning back against the headboard, she doubted it. The poor guy probably had a kink in his neck.
She reached up to push her hair back from her face and felt a wet spot on her cheek. Oh great, she’d drooled on him, too. Not that Trace wasn’t droolworthy, but this was not what they meant.
Trace opened his mouth to try again, but then she ran her tongue over her luscious lips and he completely forgot what he was going to say. Hell, with the way she was looking at him right then, he wasn’t sure he could remember his own name, much less talk. All he could think about was what it would be like to kiss her.
Pick up your beer and go into the living room before this goes somewhere it shouldn’t. Like the bedroom.
But for some reason, his body didn’t seem to want to listen to what his head had to say about the situation, because one minute he was gazing into Cassidy’s eyes and the next, his mouth was on hers.
He’d had no idea what her reaction would be, but when Cassidy melted against him, her hands sliding up the front of his shirt to grasp his shoulders and pull him closer, he got the feeling she’d been wanting this as much as he had. Trace groaned and buried a hand in her long hair, tilting her head back so he could kiss her more thoroughly. She parted her lips, giving him an all-access pass to what she had to offer, and he took advantage of it, plunging his tongue into her mouth and tangling it with hers.
God, she tasted sweet. Like fresh peaches on a hot summer day. Only better. And he couldn’t get enough of her.
Grabbing a plate from the cabinet, she put a generous slice of chocolate cake on it, then carried it to the table while Trace brought over the mugs of coffee. Once they were both seated, she dragged her chair close to his so they could share the cake more easily. She didn’t need to lean in quite so close to swap the fork back and forth, but he didn’t seem to mind. If anything, he leaned in just as close. Maybe he wouldn’t be so resistant to her advances after all.
While trading the one utensil back and forth wasn’t awkward, it wasn’t exactly practical. After a few bites, Cassidy decided to remedy that situation when it was her turn. Loading the fork, she held it up, offering the cake to Trace. He met her gaze over the chocolaty dessert, then opened his mouth so she could feed it to him. As his lips closed over the fork, she found herself licking her own. Oh yeah, this was much more fun.
Refilling the fork, she lifted it to her own mouth and, meeting his gaze, slowly closed her lips over the fork. Desire flared in Trace’s eyes as he watched her and it was all she could do not to say to hell with the cake and nibble on him instead.
Pulse quickening with excitement, she got to her feet and moved closer to Trace, then sat down on his lap. If he was surprised by the move, he gave no indication of it. From the way he wrapped his arm around her waist and settled his hand her hip, it was obvious he approved.
“This is much easier, don’t you think?” she asked as she offered him more cake.
Cassidy smiled and reached out to refill the fork. Before she could lift it to her mouth, however, Trace took it and offered the cake to her.
“My turn,” he said in a husky voice.
She obediently opened her mouth and closed her lips over the cake. She’d heard chocolate was an aphrodisiac, but she hadn’t known what they were talking about until now. Though she had a sneaking suspicion it was probably more likely Trace was responsible for the sudden heat pooling between her thighs rather than any chocolate. The man was sex-on-a-stick yummy.
He loaded the fork with another piece of cake and held it up to her again. She opened her mouth to take it, then ran her tongue over her lips to make sure she didn’t miss any crumbs.
“Don’t you want any more?” she asked.
A smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “Now that you mention it, I think I do.”
But instead of going for more cake, he slid his hand in her long hair, then leaned in and kissed her.
“Del Vecchio killed her because he couldn’t get to me, didn’t he?”
Trace’s brows drew together. “Del Vecchio killed her because he’s a violent murderer, Cassidy.”
“But he’s picking his victims because they remind him of me. You said so yourself the other night. He substituted her for me because she was blonde and pretty, just as he substituted those four other women he’s killed since he came back.” Tears stung Cassidy’s eyes and she swallowed hard. “Maybe we should give him what he wants so all this can stop.”
Trace’s frown deepened. “What are you talking about?”
“That I should let him do what he came back here for and get it over with.”
“You don’t mean that, Cassidy.”
A tear leaked from the corner of her eye and she wiped it away. “Yes, I do. I don’t want to do it, but I can’t let him murder any more women because of me, Trace.”
He closed the distance between them to take her in his arms. “Honey, I understand what you’re going through, but offering yourself up to Del Vecchio on a silver platter won’t solve anything. That sonofabitch had been killing women long before you ever pushed him off that balcony. Even if he succeeded in killing you—which I’m not going to let happen, by the way—he won’t stop. He’ll keep murdering innocent women, whether they remind him of you or not. He’s not going to turn off because you’re gone.”
Trace’s heart beat slow and steady beneath Cassidy’s ear and she drew strength as much from the rhythmic sound as she did from his words. He was right, of course. Giving herself over to Del Vecchio so he could kill her wouldn’t stop him from committing more murders. The only way to put an end to the killings was to rid the world of his ghost.
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