I opened one eye the next morning to find my father sitting at the edge of my bed, watching me with disapproval. He cleared his throat and crossed his arms over his chest as I stirred. Next would be ‘the tone.’
Sure enough, his voice was low, somber, and tinged with disappointment. Typically, his displeasure alone would have been enough to return me to the ‘straight and narrow,’ but now, for whatever reason, I could care less.
“Trying to sleep here,” I growled into my pillow.
He leaned down and pulled my comforter away. “It’s after eleven. Get up. Now!”
I groaned, but sat up, fluffing my pillow in exasperation as I rested it on my lap. “Ugh...What?”
“Chief Miller just called,” he began. “Care to explain why your car was towed last night?”
“Well, if you talked to Chief Miller, I’m sure you already know.
Why rehash it?”
“Colette!” Now his tone was harsh, serving as a final warning that I needed to comply.
“I honestly don’t know. Abel and I were at a diner and when he drove me back to my car, it had already been vandalized.”
“I guess I’m just trying to figure out the ‘why’. Chief Miller said that the downtown district is one of the safest areas in town. Did you make somebody upset?”
Duh! But instead of a formal answer, I just shrugged.
“And breaking curfew? What’s your excuse for that?”
Hmm. Somehow, I didn’t think the truth was a viable option. Explaining that Sebastian Campbell was a pissed off ghost that harbored a malicious vendetta against me, just didn’t seem credible. So instead, I went with what I expected my father thought I was doing.
“Abel and I were just...hanging out.”
When I saw him narrow his eyes at me, my filter truly dissipated. “Don’t worry, Dad. I’m not pregnant!”
I stifled laughter as his jaw dropped to the floor.
“Not funny, Colette. Get up and get ready. We’re heading into town.”
“Weren’t my antics from yesterday exciting enough?”
My dad smirked. “Well, I guess you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on that seeing as how you’re grounded for the next two weeks.”
I SPUN the handle and tested the water that ran from the spout. Ahh, scalding hot. Just as I like it! Steam rose from the claw-foot tub and saturated the bathroom mirror. I undressed and dipped my body cautiously beneath the layer of bubbles, wincing as the water drizzled over me. Once I had fully adjusted to the temperature, I leaned back and rested my head against the crest of the tub. I closed my eyes, trying to dispel the stress and anxiety that had culminated with the past day’s events.
A knock on the bathroom door startled me. I groaned and turned my head in that direction.4523
“I’ll be out in a few minutes,” I called out, setting a washcloth over my eyes.
The water temperature drastically cooled, causing goosebumps to appear on my legs. I removed the washcloth and saw that frost had replaced steam on the mirror.
“What the hell?” I asked aloud, sitting upright.
Another knock on the bathroom door. God, he was persistent!
“Jesus, Dad! Give me a few minutes, would ya?”
He knocked harder, ignoring my request.
Exasperated, I unplugged the drain and climbed out of the tub, wrapping a towel around me as the knocking intensified.
“I said I’d be...” the words died on my lips as I opened the door to an empty second-floor landing. I poked my head into the hallway in search of my father. “Dad?”
I backtracked into the bathroom and closed the door. Upon turning around, I found myself face to face with my home’s former resident. She stared at me, her head tilted eerily to the side.
“Genesis,” I whispered, my voice hoarse.
She pointed to the mirror as two familiar words materialized through the condensation.
I shook my head in frustration. “Help you...how am I supposed to do that?”
She opened her mouth to respond, but loud knocking at the door interrupted us.
“Come on, Colette. Shake a leg!” my dad boomed. When I turned back, I found myself alone once more.
DAD GUIDED the Yukon into the parking lot of the repair shop and pulled up to the over-sized garage doors. Moments later, one started rising and a familiar face appeared. I flashed a smile to the attendant waiting by the doors.
“They towed your car here. Let’s head in and assess the damage.”
“Um, actually Dad, I can take care of this.”
He looked at me skeptically. “Excuse me? What-”
“Look, I know I haven’t exactly given you much reason to lately, but trust me on this one, k?”
He still seemed doubtful but relented. “Fine, I’ve got a few errands to run in town anyway. I’ll be back in about an hour, deal?”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll find a ride.”
“Huh? With whom?”
“Oh, I’ve got connections,” I said with a laugh, sliding out of the passenger seat. I waved a quick good-bye to him and walked over to the tech waiting by the garage doors, a smile spreading across my face. “I didn’t know you worked here!” I exclaimed.
Jagger grinned. “Yeah, it’s my uncle’s shop. I’ve worked here since I was like, eleven but I’ve only been on the payroll for a couple of years.”
“Well, congratulations on your promotion.”
He chuckled, then glanced down at his clipboard. “So... your car was the unfortunate target of Kinsley’s rage?”
“Better that than my jaw.”
His brows tweaked. “Umm, huh?”
“That didn’t travel down gossip lines?”
He scoffed. “I guess not.”
We stood quietly for a few moments, his eyes traveling over me with silent admiration. He bit his lip as his gaze dropped to the deep neckline of my shirt. My cheeks flushed and I cleared my throat.
“So, my car?”
Jagger smiled sheepishly. “Right. Follow me.”
He led me through the garage to the rear of the shop where Ruby was parked. She looked miserable—as if she were trying to recover from an all-night rager.
“Yikes,” I mumbled, taking in the full extent of her damage under the auto shop’s fluorescent lights.
“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “She’s pretty banged up and since she’s a classic, we’ll have to search around a bit to find replacement parts.”
“I figured. I just need an estimate for the insurance company.”
He nodded. “Give me a few days and I’ll get it to you.”
“Sounds good. I appreciate it, Jagger.”
“No problem,” he said, dimples appearing in his cheeks. I turned to leave but heard him call out behind me. “Um, hey Colette. You got a minute?”
I hesitated. This was supposed to be a quick in-and-out sorta errand, but the pleading in his eyes made me relent.
I flashed a smile. “Sure, I was just going to Uber it home. What’s up?”
He led me through the back door of the repair shop to an isolated garage at the rear of the property. Pulling open the door on the side of the building, he motioned me inside. Moments later iridescent lighting flooded the room. Scattered car parts littered most of the concrete floor, but a lounge area with TV, couch, and pool table had been set up nearby.
“So, what do you think?” Jagger asked, gesturing around.
I shrugged. “Um, well, it’s a bunch of car parts.”
He grinned. “Not those. This!” He pulled a dusty tarp off a large, bulky object at the back of the garage. The shell of a 1970 black Dodge Challenger sat in mid restoration, anxiously awaiting its completion.
“Oh wow. Is that-”
“No, his was totaled beyond salvation. But Mr. Campbell found this one months ago and sanctioned me to restore it. I finally found all the parts, now I’ve just got to put her together.”
“Mr. Campbell? As in Abel’s father?”
He nodded. “That’d be the one. His wife’s birthday is coming up and they’re having some huge bash at their estate.”
“Estate?” I asked.
Jagger gave a small laugh. “Yeah, he throws one every year. I’ve never been invited of course. My blood doesn’t run blue.”
Neither did mine.
“Oh,” I said softly, looking down at my feet. “Sorry I asked.”
He waved it off. “Hey, I’m not lying awake at night thinking about it.”
“What does keep you awake at night?”
I didn’t have a chance to rein in those words before they were out of my fucking mouth. I had no idea why I even asked him something so personal. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but nothing could have prepared me for his answer.
His head snapped up and his honey-brown eyes darkened. “You.”
What the fuck? Why did I ask such stupid fucking questions?
I took a step back and tripped over scattered car parts, losing my balance, and tumbling headfirst towards the concrete floor. With a quickness my brain couldn’t register, his arm wrapped around me— preventing my fall. He held onto me, his fist gripping my shirt. His eyes had softened, and he stared at me with undeniable longing.
His lips were suddenly upon mine, gentle at first, then exploring with a ferocity I had never experienced. His hands traveled from the side of my face to below my ass, hoisting me onto the workbench along the wall. I wrapped my legs around him and slid my hands up the back of his shirt, feeling his muscles ripple beneath my fingertips. His mouth planted kisses along my neck as his hands moved to my shirt, feverishly yanking it off and tossing it aside. He stepped back a moment and looked at me seductively, smiling with appreciation as he drank in every curve of my body. He fell to his knees before me, his lips blazing a trail along my inner thigh as his hands worked their way under my skirt to remove my panties. I closed my eyes as my skin tingled with desire, awaiting his next move.
The door to the garage squeaked open and an overweight, older gentleman stuck his head in. I shrank away, trying to cover myself with a nearby roll of paper towels. My face turned beet red as he covered his eyes with his hand and cleared his throat.
“Jagger, Mrs. Walker’s car is in the bay for an oil change when you’re uh...finished,” he stammered before turning and exiting the garage.
“Shit,” I muttered, hopping off the workbench. “Your uncle I presume?”
He grinned sheepishly and ran a hand through his hair as he answered. “Yep.”
I retrieved my shirt and pulled it over my head. As I emerged from the garage, I was surprised to find the late afternoon sun dipping below the horizon, casting deep shadows along the ground.
Holy shit! How long had I been in there? I looked down at my phone and saw the multiple missed calls from my parents. Fuck it! I knew I was facing a soul-crushing lecture supplemented by indefinite grounding. Why hurry home for that? I heard footsteps pounding the pavement behind me. I half-turned and saw Jagger racing my way. Fuck my life right now...
“Colette, hey,” he said breathily as he caught up.
“Jagger, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have-”
He leaned in and kissed me, my lips savoring his taste. When he pulled away, he was staring at me in earnest. “Don’t be sorry. I’m not.” He grinned, then nodded towards the shop. “Do you need a ride?”
I shook my head numbly, knowing full well that I didn’t trust myself to be alone in a car with him just then. “No thanks. I just need to walk around a bit.”
He frowned, then stepped closer. “You sure?”
I’m not going to lie. Right now, he looked irresistible. His hair was damp with sweat and his eyes appeared almost amber against the setting sun. The salty sweetness of his lips made me want to do things to him that I previously only saw myself doing with Abel. Abel! Fuck! What was wrong with me? My teenage hormones had most likely jeopardized everything I was building with him. If he didn’t like Jagger before, he sure as hell wasn’t going to now. Damn it all to hell!
I shook my head. “I’ll be fine. Thanks, Jagger...for checking me out...my car...checking my car out.” Good God shut up already! I heard Jagger’s laughter behind me as I crossed the road and headed east, lost in my thoughts, and rambling to myself as I made my way home.
As I neared River Street, a lively horde of patrons lined the avenue, bustling from one business to the next. Music poured out from one of the pubs, mixing with the early evening breeze. The melodic rhythm and magnanimous singing brought an unexpected smile to my face and I paused outside on the sidewalk, contemplating my choices.
Obedient, eager-to-please Colette would drag her ass home right now. But here was my chance for typical, teenage fun--something I hadn’t been privy to since moving to Savannah. I took a deep breath, resigning myself to spending the rest of my high school years grounded, and entered the bar.
The place was dimly lit and crowded. Guests were seated at barrel-shaped tables, drinking from over-sized mugs as they tapped their feet to the music. Others crowded the stage, concealing the musicians from my vantage point. I sighed and headed to the bar to order. While I waited, I glanced around, relishing the atmosphere, and genuinely having a good time. Man, it had been a while! As my gaze drifted through the mass of people, two familiar faces came into view.
“Colette!” Scarlett cried out, engulfing me in a warm embrace as she emerged from the crowd.
I returned the hug. “What are you guys doing here?”
“Pretty sure we were about to ask you the same,” Fallon said dryly, leaning against the bar.
“Miss? Were you wanting something?”
I looked up at the bartender, my breath catching in my throat. His presence alone was intimidating. Tall and pale, his skin was nearly a translucent shade of blue. Thick black hair fell over his forehead in shadowy waves and his golden eyes shined from the depths of the candlelit room. His high cheekbones were well pronounced, and his lips curled with ravenous pleasure--his gaze intensifying as my neck flushed. He made me nervous, as though he were a lion stalking its prey.
He tipped his head back, lifting his nose to inhale. When whatever scent he was searching for reached his nostrils, he shuddered and closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them again, opaque, soulless irises peered at me.
Fallon noticed his demeanor and stepped in front of me. “Easy, Cassius. She belongs to Abel.”
“She’ll have a beer, my love,” Scarlett said, running her hand along his cheek.
He leaned into her touch, his mouth settling. Grabbing a beer, he eased the top off then handed it to me. Our fingers brushed in the interaction and he jerked his hand away, smoke billowing from his fingertips. Had I just burned him?!
“A-are you okay?” I asked him, wide-eyed.
He hissed, then leaned into Scarlett and whispered something.
“How much?” I asked, pointing at the beer.
Fallon grabbed me by the elbow and guided me away from the bar. “We don’t pay,” she seethed, offering no further explanation.
I raised an eyebrow. ”That is Scarlett’s boyfriend?”
She simply nodded, taking a sip of her vodka tonic.
I frowned. “Did I do something wrong back there? He seemed bothered by me.”
Fallon shook her head. “That’s just Cassius. He’s bothered by humanity in general.”
“He seems...uh, different,” I said, tipping my beer back.
“You have no idea,” she said with a laugh.
I certainly didn’t, and something warned me not to ask. Instead, I took another drink and bobbed my head to the pounding rock music.
“This band is awesome!” I shouted over the roar of the crowd.
“That’s not surprising,” Scarlett said with a smirk as she rejoined us.
“Why do you say that?” I asked her.
Fallon gestured to the stage. As the song transitioned into an angst-heavy ballad, the mosh pit cleared, and a pair of smoldering green eyes locked with mine. Abel’s voice was intoxicating, a baritone rich with seductive undertones. He commanded attention, his lyrics penetrating my soul, as though the pub had emptied and he was singing specifically to me. My breathing came in rapid bursts, each one fighting to escape my lungs. When the song ended, the crowd erupted into cheers.
I tossed my empty beer bottle in a nearby trash can. I couldn’t face him, guilt from my escapade with Jagger just a half-hour before still fresh in my mind. “I should go,” I muttered to Fallon, trying to dart away.
She stepped in front of me and crossed her arms. “Running from your problems again, Colette?”
“Don’t psychoanalyze me, Fallon,” I warned.
I headed for the exit, but Abel appeared in front of me, blocking my escape. Without a word, he grabbed my hand and led me into the nearby hallway.
“How’d you know I was here?” he asked.
“I didn’t. I dropped my car off at the repair shop downtown and was walking home-”
“Walking? Colette, you should have called me. It... it’s not safe.”
I scowled. “Well, I couldn’t exactly drive since your goddamn brother disemboweled my car.”
“Hey,” he said softly, stepping toward me and brushing my hair back.
“Don’t,” I said coldly, stepping away. I couldn’t be near him— couldn’t bear the disappointment on his face when he understood what I had been doing and who I had been with. But that wasn’t the worst part. No... what bothered me was that I had enjoyed it!
If I had turned and left right then, everything might have been okay. But what I hadn’t accounted for was Abel’s persistence. When he wanted something, he got it. And right then, that something was me. He grabbed me by the nape of my neck, forcing my face up as his lips closed upon mine. His other arm snaked around my waist, drawing me against his chest. It felt like Heaven being so close to him. My resistance evaporated and I gave in to desire, pressing myself even further into him, craving the kisses he delivered. My hands searched the softness of his skin, relishing how that touch was so natural, so comforting. He felt like home. I never wanted to leave.
“Ahem.” The sound of someone clearing their throat caused us to jump apart.
I turned to see Jagger at the entrance to the hallway, gripping my panties in his hand. He held them out to me wearily, his honey-brown eyes filled with sadness. “You, um, left this,” he mumbled.
Fallon and Scarlett added to the dramatic scene, appearing behind Jagger, and gasping as they realized what he clutched in his hand.
I looked at them with despair as tears started to form, blurring my vision. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment as I snatched them out of Jagger’s hand and shoved them into my pocket, silently cursing at my stupidity. I could feel Abel’s accusatory gaze upon me. I expected to see unbridled rage or debilitating pain. But it was what I didn’t see that struck me to my core. Eyes that looked through me—as though I meant nothing as if I didn’t exist. He turned away and I couldn’t restrain myself from reaching for his hand, desperate for the comfort of his touch.
" Abel I-”
“I don’t know you,” he said in a voice so cold and distant I almost didn’t recognize it as his. He disappeared into the crowd just as the band broke into another pulse-pounding tune.
I turned back to Jagger. He was staring at the floor, his brown hair hanging over his face. I couldn’t read his disposition. “Jagger, I’m so sorry-”
His head snapped up, his eyes full of disappointment. “You know, Colette, you keep saying that but I’m not certain you comprehend just what those words mean.”
He stormed out of the hallway and I slid to the ground in defeat. I couldn’t take much more. Unfortunately, the night was still far from over.
I STOOD ON THE SIDEWALK, rubbing my arms, and shivering as I waited with Fallon for Scarlett to retrieve her car. The heavens had opened, spilling their fury upon me. Crackles of lightning stretched across the night sky as thunder shook the ground.
“What the actual hell were you thinking?” she finally yelled, breaking the awkward silence between us.
I shook my head. “What can I possibly say that would appease you, Fallon? Honestly, I’m my own worst enemy.”
“He is head over heels in love with you! I mean, do you even realize that? Or better yet, do you even care?”
“It’s complicated. He’s...we’re complicated,” I said, biting my lip.
“It’s not that fucking complicated, Colette! You either feel the same, or you don’t. Don’t string him along.”
“Christ, Fallon! Is that what you think I’m doing? I-”
“It’s what we ALL think, Colette! Hell, even Kingsley agrees, and you know that for her to think that shits really twisted.”
Scarlett pulled up and I ducked into the backseat. Fallon slipped into the front passenger seat and seconds later, we were heading out of town. As the car made its way along the tree-lined desolate route, Scarlett sighed heavily. “I hate this road,” she muttered.
“Tell me about it,” Fallon said dryly.
“Just seeing that house again...and knowing that she’s not here...” Scarlett trailed off, her voice heavy.
I balked. I had never seen Scarlett display such raw emotion. It was truly unsettling.
“There are times where I allow myself to think about what she might have been, where she would have lived,” Fallon said as she stared blankly out the window.
Scarlett scoffed. “She would have been married to Sebastian, probably had five kids, and served as president of the school’s PTA!”
Fallon managed a weak smile. “And they would have lived at the cabin.”
“Whose dream is that though? Hers? Or yours?” I asked bitterly.
Fallon’s shadow fell over me as she swiveled around in her seat. “Excuse me?” she snapped.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe she would have wanted more for herself.”
The coldness in Fallon’s eyes could have produced frost in the jungles of Brazil. “And you’re basing that on what? Your interactions with her as a ghost?”
Ouch. That one stung.
I slouched down in the backseat and resigned myself to silence. But Scarlett would have none of that. I saw her raise an eyebrow at me in the rearview mirror and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
“So... did you get your panties back?”
I stuck my tongue out at her. “Yes, thanks for your concern.”
She laughed and turned her wipers on full blast as we neared the cemetery. The rain was relentless, already starting to flood the riddled country road. We hit a pothole and hydroplaned for a few seconds, the small car wobbling as it struggled to reconnect with the pavement. The graveyard loomed to the left of us, its iron gates squeaking as they swung wildly in the storm. Just as we passed the front gates, ear-piercing thunderclaps shook the earth and lightning tore across the sky, illuminating the headstones. My breath caught in my throat as I saw Genesis emerge from the darkness and point at me, her ice-blue eyes gleaming.
The radio crackled to life, rapidly scanning frequencies.
“What the hell?” Scarlett asked with alarm.
“You must have hit a button,” Fallon said dryly. “Just relax and pay attention to the road.”
Scarlett turned the radio off only to have it switch back on just seconds later. The crackling intensified and grew louder.
“Turn it off!” Fallon snapped, frantically pushing buttons.
An eerily familiar voice broke through the static, its tone filled with tortured anguish and despair. “Help me!”