Amanda had never been so glad to see her boys as she was after she returned from her stay at Ransom Creek. She couldn’t tell them what her business trip had been about, of course. The only person she could discuss that with was Lee, and they had talked about it all the way back home. Now, Amanda was just glad to hear what Philip and Jamie had done for Halloween.
“How was the haunted house?” she asked. “Did Philip manage to meet up with Linda?” Part of her wished that she could tell them that she’d stayed in a real haunted house, but maybe it was best that they didn’t know that.
“Yeah. It was okay,” Jamie said, “but pretty gross. I don’t think I’m going to go back next year.”
“I’m definitely not going back next year,” Philip muttered.
“Why?” Amanda asked. “What happened?”
“Philip got scared, and Linda had to comfort him,” Jamie said with a superior grin.
Philip didn’t say anything. He didn’t even try to call his brother any names or tell him off.
“Well, that just shows that Linda cares about you,” Dotty said helpfully. “That’s a good thing, right?”
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Amanda asked, brushing a hand across Philip’s unruly hair.
Philip just shrugged.
“Philip saw a ghost,” Jamie said, smirking. “He saw a ghost in the haunted house!”
“Shut up!” Philip snapped.
“Jamie,” Amanda said, “why don’t you help your grandmother make some hot chocolate?”
“I don’t know where the marshmallows are.”
“Come on,” Dotty said, steering Jamie toward the kitchen. “We’ll get it ready, and your mother will get the marshmallows.”
When they were gone, Amanda put her arm around Philip and asked, “What happened, sweetheart? Did you see a ghost?”
“I don’t know,” Philip said. He kind of picked at his fingernails as if they had suddenly become really interesting.
“What did you see?” Amanda prodded.
“Well, we were standing in a hallway, near where Linda’s brother was. He was dressed like a zombie, holding a fake leg that he pretended to gnaw on.”
Amanda made a face. Jamie was right. The haunted house was as gross as she’d heard it was.
Some of the others screamed when he jumped out at us. I didn’t. I knew it was just him.” Philip allowed himself a proud smile at that. “Fake blood and stuff like that doesn’t scare me at all.”
“Then what happened?” Amanda asked gently.
“Well, I saw this little girl standing next to me. She was pretty young, and I was surprised that they even let her in. I thought maybe she was somebody’s kid sister or something. But, she was crying, so I held out my hand and told her that she could hang onto me if she was scared.” Philip stopped and bit his lip.
“And?” Amanda asked.
“She disappeared. She vanished! She was just gone!” Philip threw out his empty hands in front of him. “Mom, I swear she was there, but then she was just gone! I looked all over, and she wasn’t there!”
“Didn’t anyone else see her?” Amanda asked.
“No. I asked them where she went, and they didn’t know what I was talking about. They all thought I was crazy or imagining things. At least, Jamie and Linda thought that. Dad said with all those people around, it was hard to be sure who was where. But, I wasn’t imagining it. It all just felt so . . . weird.”
Amanda could relate to that.
“I think I saw a ghost once,” Amanda said. “It was kind of like that.”
“You did?” Philip’s eyes widened. “You always told us there was no such thing.”
“I’m kind of rethinking that,” Amanda said. “But, if I saw what I think I saw, it wasn’t so bad. It was just a nice little old lady. Like the little girl you saw, she was there one minute and gone the next.”
“What did she do?” Philip asked.
“Nothing much,” Amanda said. “She didn’t even talk to me. But, she didn’t hurt me, either. Did the little girl say anything or do anything to you?”
“No,” Philip said. “She barely even looked at me before she vanished.”
Amanda nodded. “If there are any ghosts, I don’t think they’re harmful. Maybe, sometimes, they just need a little attention. They’re just a part of the past that needs to remind us that they’re still there.”
“The girl I saw just wanted attention?” Philip still looked worried.
“Maybe. Once you paid attention to her and offered her some comfort, she didn’t need to be there anymore, so she just . . . left.”
“Maybe.” Philip wasn’t entirely reassured.
“Sometimes, just acknowledging someone and letting them know you care is enough,” Amanda said gently.
“Linda probably thinks I’m a coward,” Philip said sadly. “She probably won’t want to even talk to me anymore because she thinks I’m a wimp.”
“I don’t think so,” Amanda said. “Jamie said she comforted you. Did she?”
“She held my hand the whole rest of the time,” Philip admitted. “That was kind of nice.”
“There you go!” Amanda said. “She wouldn’t have done that if she thought that you were just a wimp. She must like you, and that’s a good thing, right?”
“Yeah.” Philip smiled a little.
“Lots of guys have to go to great lengths to get girls to pay that much attention to them,” Amanda confided. “All you had to do was just be yourself and admit that you were a little scared. That isn’t bad, either, is it?”
“No.” Philip was looking more cheerful.
Amanda kissed him on the forehead. “Go and enjoy your hot chocolate. Tomorrow, you can give Linda a call.”
“Okay. Thanks, mom!”
Amanda stayed up later than the others, finishing her hot chocolate and reading a book that had nothing to do with ghosts and creepy old houses. She wasn’t really surprised to hear a tap on the window. In fact, she’d been hoping that she would. She went to the back door and let Lee in.
“Hi!” he said. “Everyone in bed?”
“Yes,” she said, giving him a kiss. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Everything’s fine. I’m just glad to see you.”
They settled down on the couch.
“How was the haunted house? The one the kids went to, I mean.”
“Philip thinks he saw a real ghost.”
“I believe him.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what you saw in the library, but I can believe that it might have been a ghost. Maybe being psychic runs in your family. I’m just glad that you’re home now, safe and sound.”
“What’s going to happen to Victoria?” Amanda asked soberly.
“Gordon’s taking her back to London,” Lee said. “She needs serious help, and they can give it to her there. Now that she’s starting to accept that she almost killed two innocent people to avenge Chris, she’s feeling even more guilty.”
“Actually, she almost killed three people, if you count Francine. She admits that she was the one in Francine’s room. Just like you thought, she’d made a mistake about where Romano’s room was. She says that she brought pillow with her to smother Romano, and that’s part of the reason she looked like a ghost to Francine. Because she was dressed in white and holding a while pillow in front of her, she looked like a strange, pale shape in the dark.”
“How awful!” Amanda shuddered.
“Yeah. Try not to think about it now. If it makes you feel better, things are working out well for Cynthia. Even though the first conference she hosted turned out to be more eventful than she thought, that wasn’t her fault. She and Senator Kahler are going ahead with their wedding plans, and he has persuaded her to accept some money from him as a wedding present. They’re going to use it to improve the house, install a better security system, update all the door locks, stuff like that. I told them to be sure to fix the lights on the second floor hallway.”
“The old ones are bad, but they did save a man’s life. Victoria might have gotten Romano that first night if she hadn’t gotten confused.”
“True. And in the meantime, Cynthia has decided to take her fiance’s suggestion and write the story about Charlotte the Spy. She says it’s going to be a romantic story with a happy ending. She’s had enough of ghosts.”
“Good,” Amanda said, snuggling up to Lee.
The two of them cuddled together on the couch in silence for awhile.
Then, Lee said, “Amanda, I’ve been thinking. Well, all that stuff that Baudin said about romance not being good in this business . . .”
“Lee,” Amanda said, “things are different for us than they were for Chis and Victoria. They’re also different from Romano and Georgia. We’re different people.”
“I know,” Lee said. “But, it does occur to me that someday . . . we might want to get out of this business.”
“Lee . . .” Amanda knew that couldn’t have been easy for him to say. He’d dedicated a good part of his life to being a spy, and he was excellent at it.
“We don’t need to decide anything today,” Lee said quickly. “I’m happy with things being what they are, with our relationship being what it is. But, I was just thinking that someday . . .” He trailed off.
He didn’t tell Amanda about Billy spotting her coming out of his room. Billy hadn’t actually admitted what he’d seen yet, but he hadn’t stopped giving Lee significant looks. Earlier that evening, when the two of them were discussing the case, Billy confirmed that Romano and Georgia were leaving the CIA to get married as soon as their next mission was over. Then, they were going to New York to help his father with his restaurant. His family was thinking they might even open a second location somewhere else, like California, and let Romano manage it. Georgia had also gotten Romano interested in charity work as another way to make a difference in the world.
“It will keep them busy,” Billy said, “but it’s not a bad line of work for a family man.”
“I suppose not,” Lee said carefully.
“Then again, as long as you’re with the right person, there are many decent opportunities to explore.” Billy gave Lee another significant look.
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Lee said, keeping his voice neutral. Neither of them said any more about it, but Lee had the feeing that the topic would come up again in the not-too-distant future.
He and Amanda had worked hard to establish their partnership, and Amanda was only now turning into a regular agent. Lee wanted to give her more of a chance to develop professionally and enjoy her career before they settled down to a quieter life. He wasn’t anxious to give up his career in the field yet, either. And he still had to establish some kind of relationship with Amanda’s sons . . .
“Someday . . .” Amanda said dreamily. “But, not today.”
Lee gave her another kiss, content to enjoy the moment for what it was. Someday could wait.