Tiffany and Thomas would have had a perfectly pleasant breakfast then gotten back on the New York interstate—if not for the girl sobbing in the corner booth. Their instinct for trouble leapt to the highest alert level.
Judging by her wrinkled sweatshirt, mussed jeans and red blotchy face—and the pile of used napkins on the bench beside her and overflowing to the floor—she’d been there all night. Her long hair—in a messy ponytail—was blond, but more ash than gold. The hopeless look in her eyes made Tiffany think this was something more desperate than having an adolescent spat with her boyfriend. Running away from abuse, maybe? Or worse?
As far as truck stops went, this one was clean and well maintained. No, not just compared to truck stops, Tiffany amended. The place was far better than many a “real” restaurant or diner they had eaten at. No frills, but the scrambled eggs had been tasty, and the fruit fresh despite the depth of winter. An advantage of truck traffic, Tiffany knew. The parking lot was plowed clear of the snow, quite a feat, considering its size. The owner no doubt had his own equipment.
She and Thomas kept a discreet eye on the girl all through their meal. No one else in the diner bothered her—which meant no one tried to help her either. Perhaps she’d declined, but perhaps no one had offered. But she seemed so upset that the desperation had already gone beyond hysteria to lethargy. Someone needed to at least try. If the girl said she wanted to be left alone, they wouldn’t meddle. They of all people believed in respecting privacy.
Tiffany’s eyes met her husband’s in silent question. After ten years roaming the country together, they often communicated without a word. You or I? In reply, he gave a subtle one-shouldered shrug, dipping his head almost imperceptibly toward her as he finished eating his toast. Tough call. Maybe another chick is better?
She knew what he meant. Regardless of if it were really the case, a woman would seem less threatening and more empathetic, particularly to a troubled young girl.
Then again, Thomas was the most handsome man Tiffany had ever seen—and she’d seen much in her thirty years. His vivid blue eyes shaded toward purple, far more beautifully than hers which had a tad more aqua in their darker blue. His black hair worn short, not tight curls but just enough wave in it. Built like an athlete but trim and average height, not so huge as to be intimidating.
Even if the girl was far too upset to consciously notice, and couldn’t really care less at that moment anyway, well…Thomas was still incredibly handsome. The waitresses had been far more attentive to them than to the few other customers there at that early hour, and not just because they were not busy. So, Thomas might elicit a tiny subconscious response from the girl, or at least fatalistic observation. One thing was certain, this was not a situation for them to double-team her.
Thomas had great people instincts. Maybe another woman was better. Plus, despite her age, Tiffany looked barely older than the girl. In fact, the last guy who’d carded Tiffany hadn’t believed her when she insisted it was right. He’d accused her quite loudly of having a fake ID. Which was, in fact, the case, but the age on it was accurate.
Tiffany took a few more gulps of her water, then wiped her mouth and set the napkin aside. Taking a bunch more from the dispenser on their table, she wound her way to the other side of the diner. The girl sat in the back corner, furthest away from the row of front windows that let in the sun-drenched morning light. No clouds marred the crystalline cerulean sky. Combined with a constant wind, the gorgeous day was bitterly cold.
Tiffany approached slowly, not wanting to alarm the girl. She set the napkins on the table—the girl’s dispenser was empty—and sat down across from her.
The girl didn’t react. She reached out and took a clean napkin to mop her face. Then the tears flowed even harder and a wracking sob shook her body.
“My name is Tiffany,” she said in her gentlest voice. “What’s yours?”
Tiffany waited till the renewed burst of crying subsided.
Finally, the girl said, “Amy,” in a tiny little voice Tiffany strained to hear.
“Amy. Amy, look at me.” Still speaking softly, Tiffany injected just a hint of command in her words.
Huge brown eyes, completely waterlogged and red, looked up from the napkin Amy was shredding.
“Amy, if you want to, if you tell me what’s wrong, maybe there’s something I can do to help.”
Again, Tiffany didn’t rush the silence. She was in no hurry here. Something told her that if she did this wrong, the girl would crumble beyond any hope of recovery.
The girl’s face contorted in misery and her gaze dropped back to her hands. Three napkins later, sill in a barely audible whisper, she said, “Do you believe in ghosts?”
Oh. Ok. This could get complicated. Was Amy longing for a visit from a particular spirit, or trying to get rid of one? Random ghost or, worse, a lost loved one? Only one way to find out.
Tiffany reached out and, ever so lightly, rested her fingertips on the girl’s hand. She considered her words carefully before replying. “I do believe in ghosts,” Tiffany said, all seriousness. “But so far I’ve met only one real one. I have discredited a few fakes, though.”
A flicker, just the tiniest spark, of—well, ‘interest’ might be too strong a word. The ‘mildest attention’, maybe. “Honestly?”
“Yes, honestly. Ghosts exist. I believe that, one hundred percent. I also believe most of what people call ghosts, are frauds.”
“Could—could—?” still tremulous, Amy’s voice gained a smidgen of strength. “Could you help me find out? I’m afraid I’m being haunted.”
“Tell me what’s going on,” Tiffany said.
As if propelled by an explosion, the story poured out of the girl. Her voice shook at times but continued to get stronger, and Tiffany got the impression that Amy had recounted these events far too many times.
“Two years ago—two years ago next week—there was a terrible car accident. My parents and my brothers were killed. The fog caused a twenty-car pile up. A whole bunch of people died. And now strange things are happening in the house.”
Tiffany sucked in her breath but didn’t say anything. She remembered that. The incident had made international news. Forty people had died. Roads hadn’t been clear of snow, but they’d been passable—until a sudden fog bank had wreaked havoc.
Tiffany didn’t interrupt and Amy kept speaking.
“Everyone died,” Amy repeated. “Mom, Dad, my brothers. I was the only one not in the car. I lived at school. They were all coming to see me for my birthday. Since then, I’ve stayed in our, in my house, but now things are really weird. Stuff moves by itself. Stuff that belonged to my parents, or to my brothers.
“This book of my parents’ work, it has a special place in the library.” Amy went through another two napkins, then went on. “I keep finding on the floor of the entryway. My brother’s telescope ends up in the kitchen. I hear noises, see things out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know what to do. No one believes me. Everyone thinks, ‘Oh poor Amy, what a tragedy.’ No wonder she’s finally lost it. They all want me to move, claim it would be healthier. My aunt’s even offered to buy the place, but I just can’t. I still feel close to them there”
One phrase from the story jumped out at Tiffany. Now things are really weird? Could it really be that straightforward? Tiffany’s face reddened with anger at the thought of someone trying to scam anyone in this girl’s condition. “Amy, which birthday is next week?” At Amy’s blank stare, Tiffany said, “How old will you be?”
“Oh. Twenty-one.” Two more napkins bit the dust.
Twenty-one. Amy should have been out partying with her friends, not fighting to hold on to her sanity. She certainly shouldn’t be grieving the loss of her entire family. No one should, but there was no help for that—as Tiffany knew all too well. As to the rest, though . . .
Tiffany’s anger rose another notch, but she kept it out of her voice. She’d been keeping an open mind, evaluating what the girl said. But at that last piece of information, Tiffany’s last doubts vanished. “Now that you’ll be twenty-one, does something happen with your parents’ estate?”
“That’s a weird question.” A glimmer of suspicion showed in the girl’s bloodshot eyes.
Good for her, Tiffany thought. Perhaps Amy was starting to regain some of her wits. “Maybe,” Tiffany acknowledged. “But I think it’s even more weird that all this is apparently starting right before your birthday. You said it’s been two years, right? And nothing happened before? So, why now?
“Oh. Wow.” The suspicion remained, but now Amy stared past Tiffany instead of directing it at her. “I never thought of that.”
“Sometimes it’s easier for an outsider to be more objective.”
“So, uh, who are you?” Amy blew her nose a few times, added the napkins to her pile on the seat, then took a clean one and wiped her face. The swelling was starting to go down, and the red was beginning to leave her eyes.
“Tiffany Walsh. My husband Thomas,” she pointed and he held up a hand in acknowledgement.
Tiffany felt a little guilty at the fib, since that wasn’t actually their name. When they’d married, she’d been Tiffany Dill and he, Thomas Trent. They’d had ample reason to ditch those names and decided to merge them. In choosing between Trill and Dent, they’d opted for birdsong rather than damage. Amy, however, didn’t need to know that much. Their former surnames were something they never shared, nor did they often use their ‘real’ last name.
Amy glanced where Tiffany indicated, and the hint of a smile quivered about her lips. “He’s cute.”
Tiffany beamed. “Yes, I kind of like him.” True, but not relevant at the moment. Tiffany wanted to stay on topic. Fair was fair, besides if Tiffany wanted to win the girl’s trust and permission to help, she needed to reciprocate by sharing information of her own. “We’re on an extended road trip. That RV out there is ours.”
Even from the far side of the room, Amy could see it clearly through the windows. Her brow furrowed, half in dismay and half in disgust as she eyed the filthy double-decker monstrosity.
As if reading her mind, Tiffany whispered, “The dirt is fake. I’ll show you if you want. It looks that way so people leave it alone.”
“Very effective, I bet,” Amy said dryly.
“Yes, so far it is.” Relieved at the dash of humor, Tiffany decided that at least for the moment, the crisis had been delayed.
Thomas came over and slid into the booth next to Tiffany. He set a third napkin dispenser on the table. Amy used another, the waterworks nearly done and her nose finally clear.
“Amy, when you first started hearing things, what did you do?” Tiffany asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Did you call the police? Call a friend? Check through the house yourself?”
Amy thought back. “The first couple times, I guess I really didn’t do anything. I figured my imagination was working overtime. Then I’d go look, but I never found anything. But then—” Amy shuddered and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she sat up straighter and raised her chin, as if daring Tiffany to disbelieve her. “Then I’d go look, and a door would be open I’d closed. Or something would be moved. Obviously moved, like a vase sitting in the middle of the hallway or something. But usually it’s the book or the telescope.
“The first time, I freaked out. But I was too embarrassed to call the cops. I called a friend of mine and we searched the whole house. We didn’t find anything. She still comes when I call, in a flash, but I can tell she’s humoring me. You know that look people get, when they pity someone.”
Yes, Tiffany knew the feeling. “I’ll tell you what I think, for what it’s worth. I think something is seriously wrong, and it has nothing to do with your imagination.”
Amy took a deep breath and started to cry again, completely different sobbing from before. “Thank God.” More napkins later, she asked, “My dipshit of a cousin even said I was sleepwalking and it was all my fault. But why would you believe me? You don’t know the first thing about me. Unless you do, and you’re a con artist.”
Tiffany chuckled. “Amy, it’s good you’re suspicious. And, honestly, I think you’re right. Someone is trying to pull some kind of con on you. But it’s not me.” She leaned closer across the table and lowered her voice. “I’ll tell you a secret. We’re rich. We’re as filthy rich as that thing is filthy,” Tiffany bobbed her head toward the parking lot. “We just want to help, because we could see how upset you were.”
Mouth twisted, Amy regarded her speculatively then said, “So if I ask you to come to the police with me while I report this whole thing, you will?”
“This very second if you want.”
That apparently convinced her. “All right, now I know I’m crazy. ‘Cause you two are total strangers. But no one else believes me, so—what do you suggest?”
“I think you should talk to the police. They probably won’t do anything, so don’t be disappointed. What you’re saying does sound incredible, but whoever is doing this wants people not to believe you. But you can tell them you want to file a report, so they will have the information. If we have your permission, tell them we’ll look at the house for you if they don’t have the manpower. Ask your friend to come too, so you won’t feel alone.”
They ended up doing just that. The cop who took her statement looked like Will Smith, only shorter. He’d have been handsome, if not for the contempt and impatience twisting his features as he pretended to write down what Amy told him.
Finally, Thomas said, “Officer, we appreciate your help so much. We can’t thank you enough. The faster you type that up so she can sign it, the faster we’ll quit troubling you.”
His dark eyes flashed in annoyance, and Tiffany was glad the cop hadn’t missed her husband’s sarcasm. “Wait here,” he said tightly, leaving the three of them in the bare interview room. The door smacked shut—loudly—behind him.
“He doesn’t believe me,” Amy said. But she said it coolly, her composure unaffected. “You warned me he wouldn’t.”
“Cops have to deal with all kinds of people,” Thomas said, by way of explanation but not excuse. The cop was probably twenty-one or –two, or not far past it. He still had the arrogance of someone new to the force. “Too often they get the ones who really are nuts. They’re supposed to know the difference, but this kid is pretty young.”
Amy shot him a weird look. “Kid? He looks older than you are.”
In answer, Thomas grinned, pulled his wallet from his jacket pocket and slid his license across the table to her.
“Oh! You are old,” she blurted, then flushed crimson. “Sorry, I just meant, I thought you were both my age. What about you?” she asked Tiffany.
“Same as him.” Tiffany jerked a thumb in Thomas’s direction.
“Oh, so you’re both old,” Amy deadpanned, then couldn’t stop the sly smile from creasing her face.
The officer returned in no time with the report—the body of it, all of a paragraph long—for Amy to sign. She did so with undisguised relief then led the way back into the main lobby.
“So, you sure you don’t mind? Checking the house, I mean.” The upward turn of her lips wavered. “I still can’t believe I’m doing this but, well, Janice and I haven’t found anything.”
“As long as it’s ok with you, we want to help,” Thomas said.
“Let me call her. She can meet us there.” Amy dug in her pocket for a quarter as she went to the phone on the wall.
Once Amy finished her conversation and rejoined them, Tiffany asked, “Your driveway doesn’t have any low-hanging trees, or a gate, or a really steep slope or sharp turn, does it?”
They hadn’t been able to bring their RV into the police parking lot because it was gated with a clearance of eight feet. That was a good thing, since they didn’t want their Monster that close to so many curious eyes anyway. It was the kind of sight people remembered. Troubleshooting notwithstanding, Thomas and Tiffany depended on being as invisible as possible. Whenever possible they rode their motorcycles, but not in this frigid weather.
“No, it should be fine. There is a hill, but it’s gradual.”
They had thought the last turn was a road—until Amy pulled her battered station wagon behind a mansion. The driveway curved around and down a gentle slop on the west side of the house. The ground was dug out, exposing the foundation. All the way around back, facing south, one of the three garage doors stood open. The blue station wagon was already inside when Thomas parked the RV.
They climbed down out of the Monster, automatically locking it behind them.
Thomas whistled. Tiffany just said, “Wow,” under her breath.
“You know,” Thomas said, the chagrin in his voice matching what Tiffany felt, “We of all people really should have known better.”
“Than to judge based on her car,” Tiffany finished for him.
“Our good deed just got a lot tougher,” Thomas said.
As far as mansions went, it was small, maybe only ten thousand square feet, if Tiffany estimated correctly. She and Thomas had seen luxury on a far greater scale than this. Heck, they’d seen palaces with several guest houses this size. But still, this was probably a two million dollar home, depending on the inside. Hell, depending on the inside, and on how many acres surrounded it, it could be twice that.
The house was lovely, its luxury understated. Despite being basically one giant cube with sharply angled roofs, it was elegant in its simplicity and clean lines. A three-story red brick, the house’s four chimneys gave it an old-world aura. Yet its freshly-scrubbed condition made it look newly constructed. The grounds were not manicured but delightfully wild and, equally delightful, the surrounding trees had not been razed to build it. At the moment, white snow shrouded it all—undisturbed white snow except for some paw prints and bird tracks. But the entire driveway as well as all the walkways had been cleared.
A knot contracted in the pit of Tiffany’s stomach and got worse the longer she looked at the home. “Damn, it’s big. There could be ten people hiding in there with her and she’d never hear a thing. And there must be at least one door on every side of the house.”
“With snow-free paths all around.”
Amy slammed the car door and jogged to where they stood. “What’s wrong with no snow?” she asked, curious not defensive. “My parents hired a yard service and I kept them on.”
Thomas replied. “It’s just that with freshly fallen snow on the ground, it’s a lot easier to see if someone was sneaking around outside the house.”
The roar of an engine followed by screeching brakes and skidding tires cut off their conversation. A midnight blue corvette skid to a stop inches shy of the back of the RV. Nearly as long as one side of the house, it took up a quarter of the driveway.
A woman jumped out, staring at the Monster. “What the hell is that? And who the hell are you?” She glared at them.
The woman—Janice, no doubt—spoke in a raspy alto. Her deeply lined face and iron gray hair contrasted with her youthfully lean body. She wore sky blue sweats and no winter coat. Just looking at her made Tiffany shiver and hug her own leather jacket tighter around her. Tiffany couldn’t begin to guess the newcomer’s age. It could have been anything from thirty to fifty.
Amy intervened, fixing her friend with an accusing look. “This is Tiffany and Thomas. I told you, they came to the police station with me.”
Tiffany ‘heard’ the unspoken subtext loud and clear: when nobody else would
“And, they told me to call you,” Amy went on.
“You claim you’re going to help her find the ghost?” Eyes narrowed and arms folded across her chest, Janice’s posture screamed not while I’m here you’re not. “Do some kind of exorcism and charge her thousands of dollars?”
“We’re not taking money or payment of any kind,” Thomas said evenly. “And we’re going to find whoever wants her to think there is a ghost.”
That seemed to take some magma out of the woman’s volcano. She hesitated, but didn’t back down completely. “And why are you doing this?”
With so many dishonest people in the world, Tiffany knew Amy and Janice had no reason to trust them. Still, all she could to was tell the truth no matter how ridiculous it sounded. “Because that’s what we do,” Tiffany said. “We help people solve problems. We find answers. We find solutions.”
Janice’s hackles came back up full strength. “Oh, yeah. Right. Why don’t you solve that then?” She jutted her chin at the Monster.
Tiffany glanced at Thomas and he met her gaze. That split second was all it took to ask and agree on the answer to the question. They hardly ever allowed anyone inside the RV. But in this case, it seemed to be warranted. Walking toward the rear, Tiffany beckoned with a finger. Curiosity getting the better of them, Amy and Janice followed.
“My husband and kids know I’m here,” Janice warned.
“That’s good.” Tiffany flashed her a bright smile. “Let me show you something.” She and Thomas removed a back panel of their vehicle, revealing two motorcycles mounted there. Two very expensive motorcycles.
“We prefer those in warm weather. Much easier than this gigantic thing, you can imagine,” Tiffany said as they secured the compartment. They went back to the front and the two women trailed behind them, now more curious than ever.
“Just a peak,” Thomas said, disabling the alarm and opening the door. He and Tiffany went in first, making sure the plushly upholstered passenger seat was pushed all the way forward.
Amy climbed the steps first, and gasped. At the strangled noise, Janice quickly followed even though she could see her friend was fine, standing in place right at the top, at the front of the vehicle’s ‘living room’. Blond woodwork, exquisitely carved, dark blue pile carpeting four inches thick, lighter blue sofa’s lining both sides of the RV and a big screen tv on the wall between living room and kitchen. A spiral staircase almost against the wall on the passenger side led to the upper level.
The difference to the outside couldn’t have been more striking. And both women looked like they had been struck, in the best possible way. Enjoying the amazement on their faces, Tiffany ushered them back out. “Your turn,” she gestured toward Amy’s house.
“That is really cool!” Amy seemed to have temporarily forgotten her dire situation.
“We love it,” Thomas admitted, “But don’t be fooled. It’s a royal pain to drive. Have to watch out for all the overpasses, use a Wide Load sign, all kinds of crap.
Tiffany fought to hide her snicker. He was telling the truth about the complications, but they really didn’t consider it that much of a pain.
Still, all the better to get back to Amy’s problem. “Amy, you have a gorgeous house, but, well, it’s huge. The situation is a heck of a lot more problematic than we realized.”
Janice moved closer and put a protective arm around Amy’s shoulders.
“How?” Amy said.
Tiffany considered how best to be clear without being alarmist. She couldn’t think of any good way. “Three story house. Counting the basement and attic, that means you have five levels. At least two stairwells, I’m guessing. And just one person. That’s a lot of empty space. That’s something a person could take advantage of. You’d never know it.”
Amy went pale and for a terrible moment Tiffany was afraid the girl would pass out. Janice looked peaked as well.
“My God, you think some person, some intruder has been in the house with me.” Her voice shook and her eyes were huge. She clutched Janice’s hand on her shoulder as if it were a lifeline. “Oh. My. God.” Tears threatened again. Trembling wracked her body.
Needing to get Amy’s attention before hysterics overwhelmed her, Tiffany said, “A dog.”
“A dog was—? Oh, I should get a dog.”
“Yes, now listen. No matter the situation, I’m not advocating using a dog as a target or a decoy. You take care of a dog as you would any family member. There is no alarm system in the world better than a dog. Not a huge dog. Not a mean dog. Just a dog. In fact, two are better than one. They hear better than us, they smell a lot better than us, and they really do have a sixth sense. A dog will know if someone else is in the house.”
Amy needed to let that sink in. They all stood there until the wind picked up, galvanizing them to go inside at least as far as the garage.
“Should—should—should we even go through the house? Is it safe?” Amy asked.
Tiffany and Thomas exchanged another look but Janice replied first.
Her left arm was around Amy. Her right hand reached behind her back and pulled a pistol from her waistband. “No problem.”
“Whoa!” Tiffany backpedaled. “Do you know how to use that?”
“Honeygirl, I’m a marine. Damn straight I know how to use it.”
Thomas had jumped back as well. “Ok, benefit of the doubt here, but you do mean you’re trained with it, right? You’re not, say, a marine surgeon or mechanic or something? Cause I really don’t feel like being shot today.”
“We’re good,” Janice assured them.
Amy didn’t seem to be surprised at the weapon, or worried, so Tiffany decided to take Janice at her word. A shrug told her Thomas had reached the same conclusion.
“All right,” Tiffany felt her heartbeat returning to normal, the muscle no longer pounding in her throat. “We’ve been making a ton of noise out here. If anyone was in the house when we got here, they’re likely long gone. Whoever is doing this seems to be at least fairly smart. You can set the alarm system for perimeter only, right? It’ll have to do, since we can’t cover all the exits.”
Amy closed the garage door then worked the keypad on the wall. “Alarm set.”
“Two staircases?” Thomas asked.
“And the elevator,” Amy told them, her tiny sounding as miserable and frightened as she looked.
“You can lock down the elevator, right?” Thomas said. At Amy’s nod, he continued, “What we need to do is find some way to grid search the house. Meaning, once we know an area is clear, we have to continue the search so no one can get around behind us to a room we think is checked.”
“Four of us, even if we split up, isn’t enough. And it’s not smart to split up,” Janice stated. Amy didn’t argue. “I’m calling Sam and the kids. They can be here in ten minutes. Amy, I’m so sorry.” Mindful of the gun, Janice hugged her. “I never thought, I mean, it didn’t occur to me. . . I’m so sorry.”
“Uh, pardon the silly question, but, your husband and your kids?” Tiffany asked, once Janice put her cell phone back in her pocket.
“Son and daughter, and a niece and nephew visiting at the moment.” A wicked glint came into her eyes that matched the curl of her lips. “Also marines. We find this scum, he’s going to regret it big time.”
Tiffany stifled a groan. She really wanted to avoid cold-blooded murder. A glimpse of Thomas’s carefully neutral face and stiff posture told her he felt the same way. But she had to admit, six marines as protection, not a bad thing at all. Not nearly as good as a dog, but still . . .
Janice fixed her friend, then Tiffany and Thomas with a hard look. “You hear one of us yell ‘hit the deck’, you hit the deck, understood? Cause that means we’ll be shooting at something.”
“Got it,” Thomas said. “Hit the deck.”
“Good to know,” Tiffany said.
“Once we’re done, how can we be sure he won’t get back in?” Amy’s voice shook less than before.
“One step at a time,” Tiffany said, because she didn’t have a good answer to the actual question. “First we’ll make sure the house is ok. Then—if you’ll let me—I’ll check your alarm system. Maybe there was some night you forgot to turn it on or something like that. Or someone could have hacked it.”
“I never forget,” Amy said. “I’m really paranoid about that. Even before this mess started.”
“And no one could have hacked it,” Janice added with equal conviction.
Matter of fact, not boasting, Tiffany said. “I could. And I guarantee you, if I can do it, so could someone else who is good enough.”
Pounding on the side door made them all jump. Amy held back the curtain to look, then flung open the door.
Tiffany had never seen anyone who looked more like a marine than the guy who swept Amy into his arms. “Hey, kiddo, what’s going on?”
Six foot five, three hundred pounds of solid muscle. Sandy brown hair in a typical military buzz cut and a determined look in his brown eyes. He made the others who filed in behind him look scrawny, although none were under six feet tall, not even the women. The fact that they all wore sweats of various colors did not detract from their military bearing.
Tiffany felt like a midget. And at five foot nine, she never felt short. She was very glad they were all on the same side. Sam, she pegged as a full colonel at least.
First Amy keyed in the code to keep the alarm from going off. Then she explained the situation with remarkable clarity and brevity, the marines’ expression turning increasingly thunderous the more she said.
Tiffany was very very VERY glad they were all on the same side.
“Let me get this straight,” one of the younger men said. “Caution is all well and good, but you really don’t have any indication that someone has actually been in the house, do you?”
Thomas regarded him levelly. “Aside from Amy’s word, you mean?”
The kid’s face reddened, but Sam held up a hand. “We’ll find out now, once and for all.” He held out a pistol to Amy. “Do not take it if you won’t use it.” The way he said it sounded like it was a phrase he recited often.
Amy took it and expertly checked the cartridge and the chamber, then clicked the safety off. It was all Tiffany could do not to roll her eyes. She really couldn’t blame Amy, though.
In full command mode now, Sam turned to Thomas and Tiffany. “You two carrying?”
“We’ll pass, thanks,” Thomas said. “Just don’t forget to yell ‘hit the deck’ before you open fire.”
Sam’s lack of comment spoke volumes, but he didn’t waste time. “Amy, lock down the elevator. Make sure every floor is sealed. We’ll sweep the basement and work our way up, leaving people watching the stairs as we go. Teams of two. No one is alone. Tiffany, you and Amy with me. Thomas, you go with Janice.”
Noticing he didn’t bother to tell the younger marines what to do, Tiffany wondered just how often they played war games together. Regardless, she relaxed a little for the first time since sitting down with Amy. Thomas’s shoulder brushed against hers and she got the message. Thomas agreed, this guy seemed to know his stuff. Sam’s only mistake thus far was assuming she and Thomas were helpless. Seeing as they were on the same side, that really couldn’t count against him. So if their assessment of him and the rest of the group was correct, they just might solve Amy’s problem real fast.
They searched for hours, moving meticulously from floor to floor and not missing any cabinet, crawlspace or cubbyhole big enough for a person to hide in. The house was breathtaking, a showpiece of modern architecture but always understated. Sprawling Great Room, and a Recreation Room (with a bar) besides. Every one of the five bedrooms had its own bathroom. The Master Suite had its own tiny kitchen. A study, in addition to the offices, and a glorious library. The main staircase curved up all three stories from an open entryway. Otherwise, plenty of space, none of it wasted on vaulted ceilings or such.
Most of the rooms Amy rarely used. She hadn’t been on the third floor in years. Literally. She’d stayed in her own bedroom after the accident—not moving into the master suite—and therefore hadn’t been in any of those other bedrooms in months either. She couldn’t remember the last time she was in the attic or the wine cellar.
So, the person who’d been living in the second master suite—a guest apartment on the third floor—hadn’t been Amy. And all the tracks they found in the layers of attic dust weren’t from Amy either.
Tiffany kept a close eye on her, afraid she was going to totally lose it.
Instead, Amy got furious. “This is my house. My house,” she railed, stomping through the attic, kicking up clouds of dust behind her. “I’m not letting anyone drive me out, or make me afraid here. How the hell do we catch this bastard?”
“Let’s check the alarm first, to make sure it hasn’t been compromised,” Tiffany suggested.
“How do you do that?” Amy said as they headed back downstairs. Sam followed and Janice met up with them. The others retreated downstairs to double check all the entrances.
Tiffany said, “Depends on if I can use your computers, or mine. You have internet in the house, right?”
“I’ll show you.” It turned out that her parents had worked mostly at home. Each of their offices were wired quite nicely, as was the computer room for the kids. “This is the newest machine,” Amy pointed to one. “It was an early birthday present from my aunt. I’m not even sure it’s hooked up right.”
Tiffany took a seat and rolled it closer to the keyboard. Searches and detective work were all well and good but computers—computers were her element.
“What are you going to do?” Sam pulled another chair up next to hers, real close. Janice and Thomas lingered by the doorway.
“I’m going to run a diagnostic on the system to see if it’s been compromised. I’m also going to generate a log that will show us every time Amy came and went. It might give us an idea when the best times were for someone to break in.”
“Doesn’t the security company need to generate that data?”
“We can wait for them. A couple days. Maybe a couple weeks. Or we can find out now.” Tiffany wasn’t inclined to delay, but nor was she about to argue with six marines. If worse came to worse, she’d simply go outside and use her own computer. It was better anyway.
Amy saved her the trouble. “Find out now.”
“Turn on the printer,” Tiffany said, her fingers dancing across the keyboard as Amy complied. Ignoring Sam looming beside her, Tiffany broke into the system and sent a bunch of reports to the laserjet. Then she backed out, diligently erasing any trace that she’d been there at all.
“What the fuck,” Sam murmured, fingering his sidearm.
Tiffany raised a questioning eyebrow at him. This couldn’t be good. He didn’t sound happy. She cursed herself for not being extra cautious. She should have made sure no one watched her do that part. Well, good lesson for next time.
“I followed about half of what you did,” he said, and she waited for the kicker. “I’m in charge of cyber security at my base.”
“Oh?” Just her luck. It took all her control not to let her panic show on her face or in her voice. He glowered at her. When he didn’t say anything else, Tiffany turned to Amy. “Let’s see the printouts.”
Amy spread them across the desk. There were no gaps in service, not that were showing up, at least. And Tiffany knew she would have found them if they existed. Then they looked over the logs, showing that Amy for the most part hadn’t gone anywhere.
But a second string of numbers showed up as well. Tiffany pointed to it. “Whose code is that?”
“Oh, that’s my aunt.” Amy’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “She’s always had the code in case of emergency, or for when we were gone, so she could check the house for us.”
“So she’s been visiting you a lot lately?”
“No, I haven’t seen her in weeks. We’ve talked, but she hasn’t been here. And last month she was in Europe.”
Sam stated the obvious before anyone else could. “Either she wasn’t in Europe, or someone else is using her code to get into your house. Who else knows it?”
Amy spread her hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I don’t know. Maybe she told my uncle, or one of my cousins? But I don’t understand. Why would my own family do anything so horrible to me? I just can’t believe it’s them.”
“Someone else could have hacked it. Hell, someone could have found the number in the garbage, or overhead it.” Tiffany didn’t want anyone jumping to conclusions. “But, you said your aunt wanted to buy the house, didn’t you?”
“Only if I wanted to sell. She wanted it to stay in our family. My parents were architects. They didn’t just build this house, they designed it. It’s one of the reasons I never plan to move.” Amy scrubbed her face with her hands. “You must be right. Someone else must have found a way to break the system. What do we do now?”
“Now we catch them,” Thomas said. Sam bristled, but Thomas ignored him and addressed only Amy. “None of this does us any good unless we catch them. You don’t even have to be inside the house; It just has to look like you are.”
“Oh, no. I’m not going anywhere. Let’s do this.”
“You,” Sam said, getting to his feet, “Are leaving right now. We’ll take care of it.”
“No.” Hands on her hips, Amy looked way up at him but didn’t back down.
Sam loomed closer. “Walk or I carry you.”
Thomas stepped between them. “It’s Amy’s call.”
Tiffany stayed seated, out of the way and not calling attention to herself. Especially since she was sitting in perfect kicking range of Sam’s knees if he attacked her husband.
“Son, you want to move right now.” Sam’s voice dropped low, dangerous. Thomas didn’t so much as blink.
So much for Sam seeing reason. But at least he didn’t leap right to violence.
Tiffany held up her cell phone displaying a big 9-1-1 just waiting for her to hit send. “Think the police will show up fast for a kidnapping?” Her husband tensed, but Tiffany was pretty sure Sam wouldn’t attack her. So in this instance, double teaming was definitely good. Actually, if it got physical, her money was on Thomas—and not just because of wifely bias. Not super tall, or super huge, Thomas didn’t look the least bit like a fearsome fighter. That was his greatest strength, and he took full advantage of people underestimating him. Plus he was fast as hell.
Sam turned his full attention on Tiffany but didn’t step closer. “Go ahead. You’ll be in jail so fast for the hacking you just did that you won’t know what hit you.”
“The hacking you and Amy helped with? Try. Me.” Tiffany bit out the last two words, her thumb ready to activate the call.
Janice smacked Sam on the shoulder. Hard. With her fist. “Don’t be a caveman.” She turned to Amy and her voice and expression softened. “One of us will stay with you. That leaves enough of us to watch every side of the house—cover every entry. No one will get in without us seeing. Once whoever it is comes in, you come out and we call the police.”
“If it’s one of her relatives,” Tiffany said, “We’ll need more than that. We need to catch them doing something, or it’s just trespassing. They can claim was all a misunderstanding.” She wasn’t sure, and she certainly wasn’t going to push it, but Tiffany thought she saw a glimmer of admiration cross Sam’s face. Just the fastest, tiniest glimmer, but still. . .
“We’re going to check the grounds.” Sam conceded without admitting defeat. “I doubt we’ll find anything, but we need to check. Let us out then reset the alarm, ok?”
“First—” Janice interrupted before Amy made it to the door. “We need to get all those vehicles out of here. Probably better not to put them in the garage either, in case that’s where this creep comes in. Not that yours would fit, but . . .” she arched an eyebrow at Tiffany and Thomas. “We can leave them at the mall, and we’ll need your station wagon for a ride back.”
Tiffany caught Thomas’s eye. Did he want to get away from Sam for a while, or did he want her to go? One corner of his mouth twitched up in the hint of a half smile. Ok, so Thomas would go.
Amy dug in her pocket and handed Janice her keys. Sam tossed her his keys as well. “Take Missy and Max. We’ll wait till you get back.”
With a brisk nod, Janice left with Thomas right behind her. Amy followed to work the alarm.
Tiffany sidled over to the window. Amy’s station wagon zoomed up the driveway, followed by a camo green Humvee. It figured. Tiffany coughed to cover a snort of laughter. No use provoking the guy. He and his family obviously cared about Amy. Plus, previous skepticism notwithstanding, they were looking out for her now.
Janice’s sports car flew by next. The Monster was a problem. The driveway turnaround was spacious, but their RV was basically the size of an eighteen-wheeler. Tiffany didn’t envy Thomas having to back the vehicle up for a quarter mile. But somehow he managed to turn around in the driveway, then he was off as well moving forward, not in reverse.
Eyes narrowed, Sam scowled at Tiffany. “You got ID?”
Tiffany took it out of her wallet and handed it to him. Same fake one she’d showed the cops, of course. He scrutinized it as if he expected it to break into song or something. When Tiffany held out her hand, he hesitated, then gave it back to her. “Who the hell are you two?”
With perfect timing, Amy came back up the steps. She pretended not to notice the hostility. “So what do we do?”
“We’re going to wait for this creep to come back then call the police and report a break-in.” She whirled to face Sam. “Any of your bunch have night goggles? In case it gets late?”
He growled. “Not with us, no. We don’t carry them around.”
“They’d be helpful in case he doesn’t show up till late. It’s time we used this huge house to our advantage,” she said. “He’ll be the one who won’t know we’re here. We can watch more easily without giving ourselves away.”
The strains of “Halls of Montezuma” wafted out of thin air. Sam fumbled for his cell phone. “Yeah, Mike?”
Tiffany could hear the young man’s excited reply. “Someone’s walking up the driveway.”
Sam fiddled with the device and soon had his daughter conferenced in on the call. “Stay sharp. Someone is coming. Make sure your phones are silenced, but leave this line open. Amy,” he turned to her, “Elevator still locked down?”
Amy nodded, eyes huge and fist pressed to her mouth. Then she recovered her anger. “Shit, he’s coming now? Figures.”
“Number?” Sam snapped to Tiffany. She held up her phone in display mode and he linked her in as well.
“It’ll be fine,” Tiffany cut off whatever Sam had been about to say. “The house looks empty. Middle of the day, so no lights to give us away, and no car in the garage. All we have to do is hide. Someone at the top of the main staircase can see the front door. Someone else hide in the kitchen. They can see the kitchen door and the staircase that comes up from the basement. A third person can hide in the great room and see if he comes in that way.”
Sam’s command mode reasserted itself. “Michelle, get to the kitchen fast. Mike, great room. You,” he jabbed a finger at Tiffany, “Go to front stairs. Don’t let him see you,” he said to all of them. Then to Amy, “Do NOT leave my side. Understood?”
She quirked a smile. Forced and humorless, but still the ghost of a smile. “Don’t worry, I’m brave and angry, not stupid.”
“He went around back,” Mike’s voice came again. “I lost sight of him.”
Tiffany said, pausing in the hallway. “Can you make a call without cutting yourself off? Someone needs to warn the others to stay away from the house.”
“Amy can call. Get moving.”
Tiffany jogged up the hallway to the front of the house. It was open to the foyer below, and she could easily see the front door. Of course, her back was totally exposed to the second staircase. That was not cool.
Shit! If he came up the back stairs without stopping on the first floor, they’d never see him down there. She’d have to watch both sets of stairs. And there really wasn’t a good way to do that.
“Garage door is going up,” Michelle said from the kitchen directly above it. So whoever it was either tapped the right frequency, or somehow finagled the keypad entry. Ok, so Tiffany didn’t need to worry about the front door. The sleaze would either roam the first floor, in which case the troops down there would see him. Or he would use the back staircase.
Tiffany could handle that. She shifted to the top few stairs and peered around the wall and down the hallway. She could see the top of the other staircase just fine.
After an endless sixty seconds, Tiffany heard—whistling? Whoever it was had balls, that’s for sure. He was whistling some show tune as he climbed the stairs. Then again, why shouldn’t he? He thought he was alone in the house. Even though he was ambling along, Tiffany only had sight of him for a moment or two as he continued up to the third floor.
Basically a pleasant enough looking, perfectly nondescript guy maybe about twenty-five. Dirty blond hair, the same color as Amy’s, average height and build. He wore jeans, a tee shirt and a heavy brown parka, and carried winter boots in one hand. In a clear plastic bag to keep them from dripping. Lovely. A tidy home invader.
She sprinted around the balcony above the foyer and up the main staircase, easily getting to the next floor before he did. He emerged from the staircase and made an immediate right into the guest suite. The sharp click of the closing door echoed, eerily loud in the ’empty’ house.
“Third floor, guest suite,” Tiffany whispered into her phone, enunciating each word. “Third floor. Guest suite.” Tiffany kept her attention riveted at the far end of the hall. Something—she wasn’t sure if it was some barely audible sound or maybe the movement of displaced air—made here spare the swiftest of glances behind her.
Her heart nearly stopped even as she realized it was Amy and Sam on the steps. Tiffany kept her attention focused down the hallway as they talked sotto voice.
“So, we wait and see what he does?” Amy asked, her voice barely audible it was so quiet. After Tiffany and Sam nodded, Amy said, “I can’t believe this. God, how many times did I get home, and he was just, just, lurking up there?” Her voice shuddered, more with anger than fear, but she kept it very soft.
“You did call, right?” When Amy said yes, Tiffany continued, “So, now we call the police and make sure this idiot doesn’t leave before they can get here.”
Amy took out her phone, but Tiffany reached back and laid a gentle hand on her arm. “Not right here where he might hear you. Go at least to the first floor, if not to the basement. That way, no chance he’ll notice the call.”
Even as Amy pivoted to do as Tiffany had said, the suite’s door opened and the guy, still whistling, came straight toward them down the hall. Tiffany made a frantic gesture with her hand for them to get down the stairs NOW. To their credit, they moved as silently as before, Tiffany on their heels.
She tried to stop Sam from pulling Amy into the library, but she couldn’t speak and they didn’t notice her make a grab for them. Then there was no time for them to change course and cross the second floor sitting area to the other bedroom. In the library, she gripped their arms and thrust them toward the walk-in closet/mini hall. It led to the bathroom connecting the library to the adjoining bedroom.
For a split second, Tiffany feared Sam wouldn’t move. Thankfully, Amy grasped her logic—before Sam did but, to be fair, Sam might not know about the book—and he followed her lead.
They’d barely crowded inside when the whistling entered the library.
If the guy decided to use the bathroom, they were in deep shit. But considering there was one upstairs in ‘his’ suite, Tiffany figured—prayed—they’d be fine. Then again, what the hell was she worried about? She could easily take down one guy by herself, and she had a mountain of a marine as backup at the moment.
Still, they wanted to catch the guy in the act of doing something wrong.
They huddled in the bathroom, its door half open like the closet door since that was how they had been. With no windows, the bathroom and the walk-in were in deep shadow. Not quite pitch dark, but still plenty of cover. Figuring she wouldn’t be easily seen, Amy edged toward the door into the library.
She sucked in her breath then bit her lip.
Tiffany cringed at the sharp sound. The guy kept whistling the same cheery melody and didn’t react. When Mr. Music went back out into the hall, Tiffany tapped Amy on the shoulder and slipped in front of her. After a cautious interval, Tiffany crept to the library door and saw the guy—a huge tome tucked under one arm—go down the stairs to the entryway.
Ducking back out of sight, Tiffany heard a thud at the bottom of the steps. The intruder switched to humming as—without the book—he climbed back to the second floor then to the third. Tiffany stole along in his wake in time to see him retreat to the guest suite.
Leaning over the rail, Tiffany saw the book sitting on the floor in the middle of the foyer. Too bad she didn’t already have the camcorder in hand. It would have been great footage. Like a specter she rushed back to the library, all the while straining to hear any more noise from the intruder.
White-knuckled fists balled, red-faced with fury, Amy stalked back and forth. “That’s my cousin!” she hissed. “My cousin! Of all the . . .” she let loose a string of invective that was no less emphatic for being muttered under her breath. Lack of breath finally forced her to inhale. “Fuck proof or patience or police. I don’t care about pressing charges. Can we just go scare the living shit out of him right now?”
“You should probably still call the police,” Tiffany suggested. “They can have a record of the trespassing that way, even if you do just want him escorted off the land. But then, yeah sure, we can go barge in on him.”
Leaving Tiffany to stand guard, they traipsed back downstairs. She heard Sam’s electronic voice, tiny and tinny, warning his two kids of their plan and for them to watch the steps just to be safe. They expected him to be alone, but in case the guy had help they didn’t want to be caught unaware. The line remained open, and Tiffany heard Amy’s voice in the background although Tiffany couldn’t quite make out the words as the girl talked to the emergency operator. At the same time, Sam gave Janice and the others the all-clear.
Then, faint but perfectly clear over the line, Amy said, “A squad car should be here in a few minutes.”
A moment later they rejoined Tiffany, who confirmed they hadn’t missed anything.
“Hold this,” Sam handed Amy his pistol. Then he reached down, took another from his ankle holster, and handed it to her also.
At Tiffany’s sardonic arched brow and head tilt, he said, “Hey, I don’t mess with ’em when I don’t need ’em. And I sure as hell don’t need ’em for this asshole. I go first. Watch my back.”
He marched down the corridor, somehow without making a sound. Tiffany and Amy trailed silently behind. Right outside the suite, he put up a hand, the pointed—firmly—to the ground. They waited while he cracked open the door. As if cooperating with their conspiracy, its hinges didn’t make a sound either.
The little kitchenette was empty. Sam crossed it, then crossed the short hallway inside the suite and pressed his back to the wall. He motioned for the two women to come inside then stop. Facing them, he jerked a thumb at the two doors on either side of the hall to his right: the master bath and a walk-in closet.
Tiffany nodded her understanding. They would make sure the guy didn’t come out of there while Sam moved to his left to check the main bedroom itself.
Easing backward, Sam shot them a look over his shoulder. At the evil, evil grin slashing his face and the ice cold glint in his eyes, Tiffany was again very happy—overjoyed, in fact—he was on their side.
With a roar that made both women spring backwards, Sam surged into the room. His, “What the hell are you doing here?!” was nearly drowned out by a high-pitched squeal of terror.
From their vantage point where the hall opened into the main room, Tiffany and Amy took in the scene.
The cousin stood on a dresser starting in the corner and ending next to the king sized bed. He cowered as if he wanted to melt through the wall itself, his bug eyes so huge Tiffany thought they would pop out of his head.
A stain spread down one pant leg and the stench of urine and feces filled the room.
“Who the hell are you? How’d you get in?” the quivering voice was an octave higher than it should have been, Tiffany guessed. “What do you want?”
Amy moved into his line of vision. Sam towered, and glowered, behind her. Tiffany imagined smoke coming out of his ears and his eyes blazing red. She chuckled at the overly whimsical image and did not feel the least bit of sympathy for the cousin.
“Burnet, why are you here?” Amy’s voice had a tremor as well, and it had nothing to do with fear. From the set of Amy’s jaw, Tiffany knew she’d pushed the words out between clenched teeth.
“Amy? Thank God!” Burnet’s knees buckled, and he tumbled off the dresser. Twisting sideways as he fell, he thunked down onto the bed.
“Ugh, he’s going to stain the quilt.” Amy went and grabbed a wad of towels and, with Sam holding up the guy’s legs, shoved them under Burnet. Then, as if she felt like she had to ask even though she couldn’t have cared less, Amy said, “Is he hurt?”
“Nah, he’s fine,” Sam said.
Flashing red and blue lights went past beneath the window and Tiffany flung open the balcony doors. The cold air swirling though the room eliminated some of the stench. Tiffany stepped out onto the balcony and called, “Officers, I’ll be right down to let you in. We caught the guy.”
Two uniformed cops followed Tiffany back into the room. Their noses wrinkled as the smell hit them. The older of the two, his hair as deep gray as the clouds pouring down the snow outside, took in the situation.
The senior cop let out a huge sigh of exasperation. His rookie partner just looked confused. “What happened?”
Sam deferred to Amy, who explained everything. She concluded with, “and he passed out right before you got here.”
By that point, Burnet moaned and sat up. Stomping over to him, Amy barked at him to stay on the towels. “What were you doing here?”
“I I I just came to visit, to check on you.”
“Liar. Burnet, we searched the house. You broke in to the attic. You were living in these rooms. You were messing with the telescope, and the architecture book.”
“Quit lying!” she shouted in his face. “We saw you do it. You deactivated the alarm to get in. How many times did you do that? When we check with the security company, what will they tell us?”
His resolve evaporated into a petulant rush of words. “It’s a waste, one person in this house. And Mom wants it. Well,” he hedged, “She’s willing to buy it. You should sell it to her. You don’t need it. Then it would get the use it deserves. We’d even let you stay.”
“In my own home? Geee, that’s big of you!” She turned her back as if he no longer deserved her attention. “Can you please just get him out of here?” she asked the police. “Can you charge him with anything besides trespassing?”
“Illegal entry, criminal mischief,” the young cop offered.
The cops hauled him off the bed and prepared to cuff him. “Can I at least get a clean pair of pants?” Burnet whined.
“Ghosts? Seriously? Ghosts?” Amy threw up her hands. She rummaged through the closet until she found an old pair of sweats and tossed them in his face. “Don’t soil anything else when you change! And take your filthy crap with you!” She stormed out.
Going with her, Tiffany almost felt bad for the cops. But at least they could seal it in a plastic bag.
“I saw it. I saw it and I still can’t believe it.” Amy tramped down both flights of stairs and into the kitchen. Mike and Michelle were sitting at the island, drinking pop.
“Sorry.” Tiffany dug two more cans out of the fridge and handed Amy one. “At least you know you weren’t imagining things. You know how to reset all the codes on your alarm, right? You should do that, just to be safe. What about changing locks? Are there any spare keys floating around?”
Amy collapsed onto one of the stools. “I can’t believe it. I mean, even now that I know it was only Burnet, how am I ever going to feel safe here again?”
“You’ll be fine,” Tiffany said, and Amy’s two young friends added their encouragement as well. “A dog. Honestly. Two dogs, even. Not puppies that you have to train. They’re adorable, but adult dogs are way less work and I doubt you want more stress right now.”
Twilight spread as the driveway filled up as the humvee and sports car pulled in next to the squad car. Janice put the station wagon back in the garage. The bunch of them paraded up the outside stairs from the lower patio to the deck and the kitchen door.
Tiffany let them in and shared a quick kiss with Thomas as Mike and Michelle razzed Missy and Max that they’d missed all the excitement. Janice brought up the rear just as the cops led Burnet through the kitchen and outside. “Come by the station tomorrow to give a statement,” the sergeant said.
That left Amy and all her marines, plus Thomas and Tiffany, standing or sitting around staring at each other.
“I’d better call my aunt and uncle. They are going to be so pissed.”
Thomas frowned. “I hope you don’t mean at you.”
“No. Good ole Burnet is probably safer in jail for a while.”
“I can call,” Janice offered.
“No, I’ll do it. But—if someone would stay tonight, that would be great.”
“We’ll all stay.” Sam sounded like a father, not a marine.
Amy looked at Tiffany and Thomas.
“If we could get a ride back to the mall, we’d appreciate it,” Tiffany said. Now that the mystery was solved, they needed to vanish. Yes, the police would wonder—but that was all they would do. Better that than to put up with tons of questions or the cops sniffing around the Monster. They’d already made too big an impression on local authorities.
Janice said she’d drive them
“But, wait.” Amy looked crushed. “Wow, you guys work fast. And ‘thank you’ doesn’t begin to cover it. How can I — What can I — Is there anything at all I can do for you?”
“Just take care of yourself.” Tiffany returned Amy’s effusive hug. “If you do get a dog, go to a shelter, not a breeder or a pet store. Mutts are the best.”
“Thank you so much.” Amy embraced Thomas just as tightly. “At least come to dinner tomorrow or something.”
“Rain check. Promise,” Thomas said.
“Sheeeesh, I feel like we should search the Monster,” Tiffany said as Janice drove away.
“All one thousand square feet, huh?” Thomas gave a wry smile.
They searched the Monster.
Of course it hadn’t been disturbed. Tiffany had made sure their own security was far better than normal. But it still made her feel better.
“I’m still keyed up. Might as well drive first.” Tiffany got behind the wheel and slid the seat forward. “Where to? We never did decide.”
Thomas buckled into the passenger seat. “I don’t care. Florida? Texas? Haven’t been there for a while.”
“We’ll figure something out.” With the mall right off the interstate, in a mater of minutes Tiffany was doing eighty. Post rush-hour traffic was light and would just get lighter as the night progressed. They’d make good time.
“Amy seemed like a nice kid. I’m glad it worked out. And fast,” Thomas said, sleep already edging into his voice. He reclined the bucket seat all the way back.
“Something tells me she’ll be fine—especially with her own private squadron of marines.”
By morning they’d be in a different part of the country. Unless they ran in to any more ghosts along the way.
Visit The Infinite Bard for a new story every two weeks, and don’t miss the ones already released! Plus don’t miss further adventures of Tiffany and Thomas in the novels Vagabond Samaritans and Good Intentions.