We were silent as we rode the elevator to the fourth floor. Spook kept glancing in my direction, his expression bemused. I stared uncomfortably at the display above the doors, watching the numbers change as the elevator rose. I wanted to say something, anything, to break the silence, but I didn’t know what. Ever since we had left Willow Lake three months ago, I had been longing to see him again, so why was I suddenly apprehensive about sharing a room with him?
The elevator doors opened, and Spook picked up our bags. A family with three young children stepped aside to let us out, and we walked up the hallway to room 418. He pulled out the keycard to unlock the door, and we went inside. The room was bright and spacious, and it smelled of clean linens. Abstract prints painted in greens and browns hung above the two double beds, and a large flatscreen TV stood on the dresser opposite the beds.
As Spook set our bags on the bed closer to the door, I went to the window and stood gazing out at the traffic on the highway. Spook walked over to stand behind me and remarked, “Not the best view in the world, is it?”
I leaned back against him and responded nervously, “It’s too bad the hotel isn’t by the river. I wouldn’t mind looking out at that view for the weekend.”
Spook grasped my shoulders and chuckled, “You and your river. Were you a fish in a past life?”
I giggled and said, “No, but I am a Pisces in this life. Not that I put much stock in astrology.”
He chuckled again and kneaded my tense shoulders for a moment. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against his shoulder, sighing contentedly. Oh, he was so good with his hands. He leaned down to nuzzle my neck playfully, making me giggle and squirm away. He caught me in a hug and smiled down at me. “You’re not getting away that easily.” His eyes turned serious, and he continued, “Talk to me, Kyr. Why don’t you want to share a room with me for the weekend?”
I bit my lip and tried to get away, but he refused to loosen his hold. Glancing shyly up at him, I tried to find words for my jumbled emotions. “It’s not that I don’t want to…I’ve missed you so much. I guess I’m just…nervous. I’ve never shared a room with a man.”
Spook released me and took my hands in his. When I chanced a look at his face, I saw that he was giving me a crooked, curious smile. “Never? Not even with…?”
“No,” I responded, pulling my hands away and crossing my arms in front of me. “Pretty pathetic at my age, isn’t it?”
Spook laughed and grabbed my hand again, leading me over to the bed, where we sat down. Taking my face in his hands, he kissed me gently and said softly, “You. Are. Not. Pathetic. Stop putting yourself down, Kyr.” When I didn’t respond, he asked, “Are you afraid something is going to happen?”
I raised my hands and let them fall in frustration. “Part of me wants something to happen, but I’m afraid. What if I change my mind and…?” I didn’t finish my thought, but just looked helplessly at him.
After a moment, he seemed to understand what I didn’t want to say. “You’re afraid if you change your mind and don’t make love to me, that I’ll change my mind about you and dump you.” I nodded miserably and looked away. Somehow I knew Spook wasn’t that type, but I’d had too many bad experiences in the past. “Kyr,” he said, and waited for me to look at him. “I told you before, I’m not going to ditch you.”
I knew we had already discussed this, but I couldn’t stop the bubble of hurt and fear that rose inside me. I accused, “You already did, once. How do I know it won’t happen again?”
Spook let out a frustrated sigh and ran his hand over his face. I knew he was irritated, if not angry, and I knew he was trying to understand. Why couldn’t I just let it go and move forward with him? He leaned his elbows on his knees and let his head fall forward in frustration. After a moment of silence, he raised his head to look at me, his expression softer. “We’ve talked about what happened that night, Kyr. Things went faster than they should have, and your…confession…took me by surprise. That’s not going to happen again.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he swept me into his arms, laid me across his lap, and brought his lips roughly to mine. As our tongues intertwined, he ran his hands across my back and down my sides. My fears melted away, and I gave myself up to his kiss, relishing the way his coarse beard felt against my sunburned skin. I moaned as I drew my fingers down the rippling muscles in his arms and back.
Spook suddenly pulled back, leaving me gasping for breath. His eyes were dark with desire as he grinned wickedly down at me. “Was that enough to convince you that I’m not going to run?”
My head was still spinning from the intensity of his kiss, and I realized that I was tightly grasping his shirt. I let go and smoothed the material as I licked my still-throbbing lips and raised my eyes to his. My voice shook as I responded playfully, “I’m not so sure I believe you; I think I need more convincing.”
Spook laughed triumphantly and laid me back on the bed. “Then allow me to make a better argument,” he growled as his lips claimed mine once more, gently at first, and then more urgently. Our noses bumped several times as our kisses became more passionate. He drew his tongue across my lower lip, teasing me till my lips parted so our tongues could dance together again. Suddenly he rolled on top of me and buried his face in my neck. Waves of desire flowed through my body as he kissed and nibbled my neck, and I entwined my legs with his. A maddening ache had started growing deep inside me, and I began moving my hips against his, moaning. He grabbed my hands and pinned them above my head, grinning wickedly down at me for a moment. “Would you like a taste of what I’m dying to do with you?”
The scent of his cologne filled my nostrils, and I could feel the heat from his body through my thin T-shirt. I wanted him so badly I could hardly think, let alone speak, so I simply nodded. He leaned in closer, and I could feel his arousal as he rubbed against me and whispered, “I want to hear you say it.” I felt my face reddening; what did he want me to say? I shook my head shyly, biting my lip. He laughed wickedly and rolled off me. “I guess you don’t want to play as much as i thought.”
I struggled to free my hands so I could pull him back down to me, but he wouldn’t release me. I gasped, “Spook, please…” I squirmed against him, needing his touch, pleading with my eyes for him to continue the wonderful things he was doing to me.
“Please what?” he chuckled, leaning down to kiss me quickly.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I moaned, “Spook, please, I want you to…” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words.
“Close enough,” he growled, lowering himself on top of me again, rubbing his body rhythmically against mine and nuzzling my neck. I turned my head to nibble below his ear, making him groan and release my arms. My hands wandered down his back till I grasped his buttocks. Oh, lord, even his butt was firm and muscled. He growled and slipped his hands beneath my shirt, tracing around the outside of my bra. My breasts tingled and ached for his touch; I arched my back, willing his fingers to stroke inside my bra. Suddenly he reached around and unhooked it, then ran his hands over my breasts. My nipples hardened immediately as he teased and stroked them with his palms. I thought I was turned on before, but as he gently kneaded my breasts, the ache between my legs increased. The entire universe seemed to condense into the things he was doing to my body. I began moaning and begging for release as I rubbed against him more urgently, my hips rising to meet his rhythmic stroking. Before I knew what was happening, my desire exploded, and waves of pleasure washed over my body again and again, making me cry out. Spook suddenly tensed and cried out too before collapsing on top of me.
After a minute, Spook rose up on one elbow to gaze down at me tenderly. “Was that your first?” he asked softly, brushing my hair out of my face with his other hand.
“You know it was,” I replied softly, blushing and hiding my face in his chest.
He chuckled and rolled over so that I lay beside him. “Kyr,” he said. When I looked up at him, he continued, “Look, I can’t promise you I’ll never hurt you again, and I can’t promise I’ll never fail you.” He laughed self-consciously and joked, “I can promise you that I’ll probably screw up again, but I will never, ever hurt you intentionally.” He seemed to struggle to find the right words. “I told you before, I never thought I could feel this way about someone again, but here I am falling helplessly in love with you.” He kissed me again. “I want to be your first and your last; I want to be with you, Kyr. Only you. Isn’t that enough for you to at least give us a chance?”
Oddly enough, his clumsy honesty was just what I needed to hear. I’d heard enough false promises of forever that left me broken-hearted when I believed them. Spook wasn’t promising anything unrealistic, and despite his profession of love, which I knew was real, I could sense that he was fighting the fears of his own demons from the past. Knowing that neither of us had starry-eyed expectations calmed my nerves and made me willing to close my eyes and take that leap with him. I took his face in my hands and kissed him gently before replying softly, “I love you too, Spook. Who’d have thought I’d fall so hard for that cold, arrogant dork who showed up at the Berkeley mansion and accused me of being an over-imaginative, attention-seeking groupie?”
Spook’s eyes widened in shock for a moment before he laughed, “I made a horrible first impression, didn’t I?”
I traced his mouth with my finger and teased, “Lucky for you I give second chances.”
As I leaned forward to kiss him again, Copa Cabana suddenly blasted from across the room. Great, my cell phone. “That’s probably Phil,” I groaned, rolling off the bed to grab my purse and dig through it till I found my phone. I answered it just before it went to voicemail.
“Hey, Kyr, I did catch you,” Phil said cheerily. “Are you in Willow Lake yet?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” I replied, going back over to sit next to Spook on the bed. “I got in around lunchtime, grabbed something to eat and walked through the street fair.” Spook had moved closer to me and was walking his fingers up my sides. I stifled a giggle and pushed his hands away.
“I’m surprised I didn’t run into you; I took a late lunch and ran down there for one of Krabby Kate’s fish sandwiches,” she responded. “So, are you ready to meet with Warren?”
Spook had begun poking my ribs so that I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. I turned and attempted to give him a dirty look, which didn’t deter him at all; in fact, his mischievous grin told me he was even more determined to get me to giggle. I looked away and tried to focus on Phil’s question. “Um…yeah. As ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.” Spook kept poking and grabbing my ribs, and when I attempted to move to the other bed, he hooked his finger in my belt loop and wrapped his other arm around my waist so I couldn’t get away.
“Cool,” Phil replied, oblivious to the battle taking place on my end. “Ed gets off work at 5:00; we can meet at the Mustang Grill at 5:30. Then we’re just waiting for Spook, right?”
Just then, Spook slipped his hand beneath my shirt and scrabbled his fingers across my stomach. Before I could stop it, a giggle escaped from my throat. Barely able to keep my voice steady, I answered, “No, Spook is here.”
“Oh,” Phil said, surprised. “I thought he wouldn’t be here till early this evening.”
“He started work early this morning so he could come down sooner.” Spook doubled his efforts, slipping both hands under my shirt, making me squirm and giggle uncontrollably. I held the phone away from my mouth and hissed, “Stop it!”
Phil was quiet for a moment, and when she spoke, I could hear the smile in her voice. “He’s there with you, isn’t he?” She laughed as Spook grabbed my knee and made me squeal.
“Yes,” I responded, trying to escape his teasing fingers. I clenched my teeth to keep from laughing. “He’s being a royal pest.”
“Well, it sounds like you’re enjoying it,” Phil teased. “I’ll let you two lovebirds alone, and we’ll see you at 5:30.”
Spook scooted closer to nuzzle my neck while he tickled my stomach. I laughed out loud and tried to smack him with my free hand. “Okay, 5:30,” I confirmed through my laughter.
“If we’re late, don’t call,” Spook called out, laughing triumphantly as I reached behind me to slap him clumsily.
Phil giggled and called back, “Got it, Spook. Have fu-un!”
I disconnected and tossed my phone aside, giggling hysterically and trying to wrestle free. I managed to roll over so I was facing him, and I grabbed his hands to make him stop. “You’re such a dork,” I accused.
He laughed mischievously and apologized insincerely. “I guess someone needs to get used to having a boyfriend who can’t keep his hands off her.” He leaned down to kiss me, his tickles turning into caresses. My desire ignited immediately as he changed direction, and I moaned, wrapping my arms around his neck. He began stroking my breasts again, expertly flicking my nipples with his thumbs. He groaned as he drew his tongue up and down my neck. “So, what do we have, an hour and a half till we have to meet Ed and Phil?”
“Mmm,” I responded absentmindedly. “An hour and a half, yes.” Somehow I remembered that I hadn’t told Spook about meeting up with Lou. I wanted to tell him before we met the others. “Spook…” I began; then a wave of pleasure washed over me as he ran his hands up my thighs and across my stomach. “I need…to tell you…something.”
His hands moved back to caress my breasts, and he chuckled, “Are you going to tell me where you want me to touch you?” He planted a kiss just below my ear before sucking on my earlobe. “I think I can figure that out by myself,” he teased.
“Oh yeah, you can,” I mumbled breathlessly. Was it getting hotter in here, or was it just me? Or him? He scooted down and lifted my shirt enough to kiss my stomach. I tangled my fingers in his hair as my skin turned to gooseflesh and a tingling ache began between my legs once more. He was just as good with his lips as he was with his hands. Should I just forget about Lou and let him continue this sweet torture? No, I couldn’t; I really needed to tell him before we met the others. “Spook, I saw…” I gasped aloud as he swirled his tongue inside my belly button.
Spook quickly scooted back up to claim my lips again. I held him tightly, trying to stop my trembling. He pulled back and teased, “You saw what? Stars? Fireworks?”
“No, Spook, I…” He interrupted me with another kiss and more breast caresses. I arched my back and tossed my head from side to side; he was going to make me crazy.
“Well, then, I’m not doing my job, am I?” he chuckled, reaching down to stroke slowly between my legs. Oh, he was making this so hard. I really didn’t want him to stop.
I made a great effort and said in a rush, “Spook, I saw Lou.”
Spook paused for a moment, nuzzling my neck. “Who’s Lou?” He sounded as though he were having trouble focusing too.
I gasped again as another wave of pleasure washed over me. With a lot more difficulty, I replied, “The bartender. From A Drop in the Bucket.”
Suddenly he rolled off me and looked down at me, all seriousness. How in the world did he do that? “You saw Lou?” he repeated. When I nodded, my senses still reeling from his touch, he continued, “Did he talk to you?”
I cleared my throat and tried to sit up. “Yeah, yeah he did.” I tried to ignore the way my skin still tingled with desire. “He came into the deli while I was there. As I was leaving, he asked me to sit down with him.” As I related the details of my conversation with Lou, Spook listened intently, his unfocused eyes locked on a spot on the bedspread. He laughed humorlessly when I told him about Lou’s observation that Phil had a lot of nerve to approach both him and the fire chief, and he nodded in agreement when I told him that I shared Lou’s concern that Phil–and the rest of us–might be in over our heads. His brows knitted together with concern when I mentioned Biddlesbacher’s book and the trouble his family had endured as a result of what he had written about Mary. “He admitted that he can’t see the point of keeping a sixty year old secret, but he wanted to impress upon us that those who want to keep that secret will go to any lengths to make sure it remains a secret. He’s really not afraid of the secret coming out; he’s just afraid for our safety.”
Spook raised his eyes to mine, his own concern reflecting in his expression. “That’s why I thought at least one of us needed to be here for this little meeting with Warren, to keep Phil reined in. I was really hoping Jason and Grant could make an appearance, but they’re out filming for the next few weeks.”
“Although maybe Warren would have been less willing to talk if confronted by a couple celebrity ghost hunters, even if there were no cameras present,” I mused. I did share Spook’s desire to have their expertise in interviewing clients, but a part of me was glad they weren’t along for the ride this time.
Spook chuckled, “I doubt Warren McKnight would be a card-carrying member of the Ghost Hunters fan club. It’s more likely he wouldn’t know them from Adam.”
I shrugged. “You’re probably right. Still, I’m sure when Phil set this up, she told his niece that she and Ed are from the Willow Lake Paranormal Club; Jason and Grant don’t exactly come across as being college age, and their presence might put Warren on edge.”
“Well, I’m sure you and I don’t look like college students either,” he laughed, rubbing a hand across his beard. “Unless we could pass as club advisors.”
“Speak for yourself, old man,” I teased, giving him a shove. I liked to think I still looked young enough to pass for a college girl, and most of the time when I went into a bar, I still got carded.
Spook suddenly grabbed me and tossed me down on the bed again. “Who are you calling ‘old man,’ Kyr-tastrophe?” he laughed, giving me a wicked look. “I’m young enough to carry you out of a burning building, young enough to climb up a quarry wall to untangle you from your belay ropes…” He nuzzled my neck and traced my earlobe with his tongue. “…And I’m young and skillful enough to bring you to your first climax without even removing your clothes.” He drew back to look at me, his eyes black with passion. His voice was gravelly as he said, “An hour isn’t time enough to do what I’d like to do with you right now, but it’s more than enough time to have a bit more fun, don’t you think?”
He didn’t give me a chance to respond, but lowered himself on top of me to begin kissing and caressing once more.
Spook and I arrived at the Mustang Grill exactly at 5:30. Even though Phil and Ed gave us knowing smirks, I thought Phil looked a bit disappointed that we arrived on time. I felt the color crawl up my neck and into my cheeks as Spook gave me a sideways glance and smiled mischievously at me before we all headed inside.
As the four of us perused the menu, a cloud seemed to loom over our table. Ed’s eyes were glassy and hard, and uncharacteristic lines of tension were visible on his forehead and around his mouth. Phil’s eyes, too, stared unseeingly at her menu, and she seemed less enthusiastic than before about the task we would undertake in a couple hours. My eyes drifted over to Spook, whose expression as he looked across the table at Ed and Phil told me that he sensed their uneasiness. He turned his head almost imperceptibly, and our eyes met for a brief second before he smirked and broke the silence. “So, who’s in the mood for tongue-torching chili?”
As I laughed at his joke, the knot of tension in my chest released, and I relaxed. I raised my chin and grinned wickedly at him as I teased back, “Only if it comes with a side of cigarette ashes.”
First Ed and then Phil burst out laughing as Spook’s lip curled and he shuddered involuntarily. I smirked up at him, knowing I had just gotten the best of him. Of course, I could tell by the way he raised his eyebrow at me that he intended to get me back later.
After we got our food, we chatted for awhile about general topics like our summer activities, our jobs, the street fair, and entertained ourselves by watching the people who came into the restaurant. Ed, Phil and I marveled at how easy it was to tell the locals from the folks who were only in town for the holiday.
Finally, Spook glanced at me and then across at Ed and Phil before saying in a low voice, “Before we head out to speak to Warren, I’d just like to be clear what it is you hope to accomplish tonight.”
Ed and Phil exchanged a confused look, and Phil ventured, “I thought that was pretty obvious. We’re hoping to get to the bottom of what happened with Mary in Appleton bell tower that night.”
Spook leaned his elbows on the table and rested his chin on his hands. He fixed his gaze on Phil, and I could see in his eyes that same steely, calculated coldness I’d seen the night I first met him at the Berkeley mansion. “That part is obvious,” he said. “What I…” He motioned to me. “What we want to know is what you intend to do with that information, if we’re even able to get it.”
“Well,” Phil looked at Ed and then back to Spook. “I guess…I’m hoping to…” She seemed a lot less sure of herself under Spook’s hard gaze, and I wondered if she had even considered her next step.
Ed jumped in, although he didn’t sound any more sure of himself than Phil did. “I guess we were thinking that if we find out what happened that night, we can somehow put Mary’s spirit to rest.”
Spook drained his coffee and set the cup down with a thump. “And how do you plan to do that?” he asked bluntly. “Dr. Harris made it abundantly clear that any more ‘ghost hunting nonsense’ is not going to be tolerated on campus. You do realize that in order to put Mary’s spirit to rest you’d have to get into the bell tower right?”
“Well, right, but…” Ed began.
“But what?” Spook interrupted. “Even in the unlikely event that Warren spills the whole story and gives us even a clue about what would let Mary rest, if you think for one moment that Dr. Harris will change his mind and let us back up there to do it, you’re either crazy or naive.”
Phil looked sharply at Spook, her eyes suddenly flashing defiance. “So who says we need his approval?” she asked, twisting her napkin angrily. “There are ways of getting around him.”
Ed and I exchanged a glance; her stubborn persistance was making even him nervous. I glanced up at Spook, thinking again of Lou’s observation that Phil tended to act without thinking things through. Spook leaned forward and struggled to kep his voice low. “Phil, think about what you’re saying. One of the cardinal rules of paranormal investigating is that you only investigate places where you have permission to be.” He gave me a grim look and continued, “Kyr and I have already gotten on Dr. Harris’ shit list for being in that bell tower without his express written consent, and we don’t intend to do it again. Besides, I have no desire to add a conviction for criminal trespass to my resume for the sake of a ghost hunt.”
Phil seemed to relax a bit as she replied, “I didn’t mean we should break in. I simply meant we could get permission from someone else.” She smirked smugly. “Like maybe Dr. Cuomo.”
Spook let out his breath in a loud huff and sat back hard in his seat. I could see the color rising in his neck, and I knew he was struggling to hold his temper. He glanced helplessly at me, and I leaned forward to try to reason with Phil. “Is it really fair to her to bring her into this? I know she supports what we were doing, and I know she’d like to find answers too, but I’m honestly surprised she stil has her job after the way Dr. Harris went off the last time.” I pleaded with my eyes for her to understand. “I respect Dr. Cuomo very much, and I know you do too; I really don’t want to cause her any kind of trouble by using her to go over Dr. Harris’ head.”
Phil’s jaw was still tightly clenched, and she continued to twist her napkin, but her eyes had lost some of their hardness. I knew she held Dr. Cuomo in too high a regard to put her job in jeopardy. Ed put his arm around her and pulled her close. Glancing briefly at Spook, he said, “I think we should slow down and think this through a little more, take it one step at a time. Let’s see what Warren tells us tonight and then go from there.”
Phil tossed her napkin onto her plate and crossed her arms. After a moment, she gave Ed a look of defeat, sighed and whispered, “Okay.” He leaned over to kiss her temple, and she looked sheepishly at Spook before conitinuing. “I guess I just got caught up in the idea of discovering something that’s been hidden for decades. I kind of wanted people to see our paranormal group as something more than a bunch of nuts walking around in the dark talking to themselves.”
Now that the situation had been diffused, Spook relaxed. He leaned forward and looked at Phil with kinder eyes. “I get that, Phil; we all feel that way about what we do.” He gave me a meaningful look. “It’s just that in this case, we need to be aware that not everyone wants the truth to come out.” He looked at me again and gave me a nudge.
I caught his drift. “Phil, Ed, when I was at Raymond’s Deli this afternoon, Lou came in for lunch. He recognized me and asked to talk to me.” They both looked interested, and I continued. “He really didn’t give me any new information about what happened in the bell tower.” I decided to keep Lou’s confidence about the fire chief’s experience. “He said as far as he’s concerned, keeping a sixty year-old secret was foolish, but there are still people who will go to any lengths to make sure that secret stays hidden.”
Phil narrowed her eyes at my words, and Ed laughed shortly before joking, “He makes it sound as though Willow Lake has its own mafia or something.”
I met Spook’s eyes before saying, “It may not be the mafia, but that idea isn’t far from the truth.” I went on to tell them what Lou had told me about the troubles Biddlesbacher’s family had experienced before he pulled his book off the shelves and reprinted them with a modified account of what happened to Mary Bollinger. I could see the wheels turning in Phil’s mind as she came to the same realization I had, that they might be opening themselves up to the same kind of consequences if we went public with anything we discovered. “Lou’s main concern was to make sure we knew what we’re getting into. He said he doesn’t want to see anyone getting hurt over this.”
Judging by the look Ed and Phil exchanged, I was certain they understood the seriousness of the task we were about to undertake. At least I hoped they did.