A Ghost of a Chance
An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
Like the philosophers say, the line between genius and stupidity is a fine one.
Actually, it wasn't the philosophers, it was Nigel in Spinal Tap, but the point is still a valid one. Which is why what seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time-namely, prying off the screen and crawling through the open window of Oliver de la Motte's front parlor-turned out to be a really bad decision.
It's not like I hadn't tried to use the key Oliver sent. I had tried for about two minutes, turning the damn thing every possible way-not easy in the dark of three a.m., and not pleasant either with that clammy sea breeze on the back of my neck-and rustling the overgrown shrubs. Not that I'm the nervous type or I wouldn't hunt ghosts for a living-not that it's much of a living.
When I couldn't get the key to work I jumped off the porch and walked around the side of the house till I found an open window. Pulling out my pocket knife, I pried loose the screen, hoisted myself up and climbed through...
And that's when all hell broke loose.
Something rushed out of the darkness and tackled me around the waist, hurling me to the hardwood floor. The very hard wood floor. My elbows, knees, tailbone and skull all connected painfully. My glasses went flying.
“Jesus!” I yelped, trying to get away.
“Guess again,” growled a deep voice.
Definitely human. And male. Definitely male. I was wrestling six feet or so of hard, lean male. Naked hard, lean male. Definitely not Oliver who is sixty-something and built like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. And no one else was supposed to be here. Was my assailant a burglar? A naked burglar? The guy had muscles like rocks-speaking of which: I brought my knee up hard.
His breath went out in an infuriated whoosh. His weight rolled off me. I wriggled over and tried to crawl away, but the rug beneath me bunched up and slid my way. A small table crashed down just missing my head, and I heard glass smash on the floor.
“You little son of a bitch,” said the burglar who was probably not a burglar, looming over me.
I tried to roll onto my side, but a knee jammed into my spine pinning me flat. He grabbed my right arm and yanked it back so hard I thought he'd dislocated it. The pain was unreal. I stopped fighting.
For a minute there was nothing but the ragged sound of our breathing in the darkness. Then he reached past me and turned on the table lamp.
I had a blurred view of a forest of scratched claw-foot furniture, miles of parquet floors and a herd of dust bunnies. I could make out my glasses a few feet away beneath a tall ottoman.
“I don't understand what's happening here.” I got out.
“What part do you not understand?” he inquired grimly.
“Who are you?”
“Who the hell are you?” He didn't ease up on my spine, but there was something in his tone…a hint of doubt beneath the hostility.
“Rhys Davies. I'm a - a friend of Oliver's.”
He made a disgusted sound. “Yeah, you and every other cheap hustler in the greater metropolitan area--”
“Cheap hustler!” I'm sorry to say that came out sounding way too much like a squeak. The squeak factor was partly due to the fact that with every shallow breath I inhaled his hot-off-the-sheets scent. He'd had a shower before bed, and that sleepy soapy skin smell was even more alarming than the fear he was going to crack my vertebrae.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all. “Cheap is the wrong word. These things are never cheap.”
“Things?” I repeated numbly “I'm not…you've got this all wrong.”
“Is that right?” He seemed unimpressed.
I requested with an effort, “Could you ease up on my arm?”
He let go of my arm. It flopped weakly down. I flexed my fingers, surprised that they actually still seemed to work.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “Oliver's out of town for the next month.”
“I could ask you the same question!”
“Yeah, but I asked first.” He began to pat me down with brisk, impersonal efficiency. “If you're not one of Oliver's boy toys, what are you? Reporter? You're not a burglar, that's for sure.”
And neither, obviously, was he. So who the hell was he?
“I told you who I am,” I bit out. “I'm a friend of Oliver's. He invited me to stay.”
His weight shifted off my back, and he ran his hands along the outside of my legs -- then the inside. He seemed to know what he was doing, but it was invasive to say the least. “Ever hear of knocking?”
“I didn't know there was anyone to hear me knock. I tried my key -- the key Oliver sent. It didn't work.”
“Your key?” He felt over my crotch with what felt like unnecessary familiarity. And in a tone I didn't like, he said, “I see.”
“Hey! Then what's with the Braille!” I recoiled as much as you can with two hundred plus pounds of beef pinning you to the floor.
He hesitated, but only an instant, before pulling my wallet out of my back pocket. He thumbed through it -- taking his time.
“Rice Davies,” he said.
“It's pronounced Reece,” I retorted, muffledly. “Like in Reese's Pieces.”
Now why had I said that?
I could hear amusement threading his voice as he continued, “1045 Oakmont Street in West Hollywood. You're a long way from home, Reece.”
Yes, apparently I had turned left after The Outer Limits. “Can I get up?”
He stepped out of range as I sat up, wincing. I looked up -- a long way up. He was a big blur, I had an impression of dark hair, big shoulders narrowing to more darkness, and miles of long brown legs.
“Can I get my glasses?”
The blur stepped away, bent, retrieved my glasses and handed them to me.
I moved onto the settee and put them on. My hands were a little unsteady. I haven't been in many fights. Not that academia isn't a jungle, but generally we don't end up brawling on the floor.
The man now sitting on the giant ottoman across from me came into sharp focus. He was not entirely naked after all. He wore cotton boxers with little red and blue boating flags, thin cotton very white against the deep brown of his tanned skin.
He stared back at me with equal curiosity.
His black hair was unruly-which could have been the result of an impromptu wrestling match. His eyes were very green in his tanned face. His features were too harsh to be good-looking. He looked…mean. But he wasn't quite as burly as he'd seemed in the dark. About six feet of long strong bones and hard muscle.
“You're Oliver's nephew,” I guessed, rubbing my wrenched shoulder. “The cop.”
Something changed in his expression, shuttered.
“Bright boy. That's right. Sam Devlin.”
I didn't know what to say. This was an unwelcome development, to say the least.
“I didn't know you were staying here.”
He cocked a dark brow. “I didn't know I needed your permission.”
“It's just…I'm here to work.”
“What did you have in mind?” he asked dryly.
I remembered the leisurely way he'd groped me earlier and felt an uncharacteristic heat in my face.
“I teach a course in paranormal studies at UCLA,” I said. “I'm working on a book about ghost hunting along the California coast. Oliver invited me to stay here for a few days while I researched Berkeley House.”
I'm guessing most people never saw that particular expression on Sam Devlin's face. After a moment he closed his jaw sharply. He studied me with narrowed green eyes.
“Well, well,” he said mildly. “A ghost buster.”
I hate that term. I hate that movie. Well, okay, there are a few funny bits, but really. Not good for the image.
“It's a science,” I said firmly.
“Yeah, weird science.” He considered me without pleasure. “This should be cozy,” he said finally. Planting his hands on his muscular thighs, he pushed up to his feet. “Okay, Mr. Pieces. I can't see anyone making up a story that dumb. Help yourself to one of the bedrooms. I'm upstairs on the left. There are clean sheets and towels in the cupboard at the end of the hall.”
I stopped massaging my shoulder, gazing up at him doubtfully. “That's it? You're going to bed?”
“Did you have something else in mind, Professor?”
That was going to get old fast. I said a little sarcastically, “I thought you'd demand to see my teaching credential at the least.”
He yawned. “Is that what they call it these days?” Heading for the hallway, he tossed over his shoulder, “I think it can wait 'til morning -- impressive though it may be.”
I was treated to a final glimpse of his long brown legs vanishing up the staircase.
Copyright 2000-17, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.