This book was quite the solo adventure for me. Due to my general lack of planning, I designed the cover myself, did all the proofreading, and the formatting. With past books, I've managed to at least hire someone to help with some of these, but this time, I decided it would add too much time and generally slow the process to a halt. So if you see some typos, don't like the cover, or your ereader has a meltdown trying to load the book--It's all MY FAULT. I'll be here for you to scream at. (Hope you enjoy the book!)
So, Strange Girl, what's it about? Well, here's the blurb:
*You look awesome.*
This is a typical text from Jake, the mysterious guy who saved Mary from the Shadowman. After everything had settled down, he started sending little messages to her. They brighten her day and make her feel special. She likes Jake. He's different like her. A freak. They send texts back and forth frequently, and Mary hasn’t told anyone about him. He's her secret friend.
When the TV producer Regina Smith comes to ask Gran for help, Mary pushes Gran to take her up on the opportunity. Regina wants them to go to Alabama to help a group of paranormal investigators, who are making a reality show. They've stumbled onto a real haunted house, and if no one steps in, they're going to get themselves killed. But Mary doesn't really care about that. She wants to go because Jake lives in Alabama. And she hopes to meet him. But when Gran’s kidnapped, Mary no longer hopes to meet Jake, she has to meet him. He’s her only hope of rescuing Gran. But mysteriously, he has stopped answering her texts.
To save Gran, Mary not only has to contend with two malevolent ghosts but also the paranormal investigators who will stop at nothing to capture evidence of the paranormal. If they have to, they’ll put Gran and Mary at risk. They will get the ghosts one way or another.
You know how ghosts are made, right?
The ebook is now live at the following vendors!
And as usual, here is the first chapter of the book as a sample. I hope you like it.
It was finally about to happen. Mary was going to a high school dance. She’d never thought it would happen, but here she stood, with a boy no less. She mentally ticked the box beside school dance. It was on a list titled “Normal High School Things.” Also on the list were graduating, first kiss, and t.p.-ing a jerk’s house. The list was short, but then again, Mary hadn’t thought she’d do half the things listed. All but one thing was left to be marked off now.
Kyle’s hand slid warm and comforting to the small of her back.
“Hey, ready?” he asked.
She looked up at him with a smile and nodded. He handed their tickets to the person manning the door and they entered.
The dance was in full swing. Music reverberated through the air, giving everything a low hum. People were on the dance floor and sitting at tables that lined the room. The couple paused at the school gymnasium’s entrance to take in the transformation by streamers and crepe paper instilled upon it for Homecoming.
“Do you have the overwhelming urge to set off the sprinklers and watch it all melt away?”
Kyle huffed a laugh. “No, and I see I won’t be able to let you out of my sight any this evening.”
“Oh come on, just imagine it. It would all melt into blue and yellow sludge. Maybe some of it would mix into green. Green’s your favorite color.”
Kyle shook his head with a grin. “Can we have one dance before starting the mayhem?”
A shiver went down Mary’s back at the mention of dancing. She smoothed her dress nervously. She was amazed that she was actually here. She’d figured she’d have to forgo all high school dances. The notion had made her sad, but she figured that her freak status had permanently revoked her dance card. But here she was in a dress that made her feel like an alterna-princess with a date that made her feel like a normal girl. Yeah, those were two pretty different feelings, but they were both good so she didn’t question them.
Noticing her nervousness, Kyle leaned in close. “Everything okay?” he asked.
He was in a sports jacket, dress shirt, and slacks. When Mary had first seen him, she’d been surprised by the little flutter in her heart. She hadn’t known suits were something she liked. He wasn’t wearing a tie and the top button was undone on his shirt. She found the small opening of the collar very tantalizing. She was staring at it now. She swallowed uncomfortably and snapped her eyes up to his face. “Everything’s fine,” she said, but the words came out a little garbled. It sounded more like “Very fine.”
Kyle put his hand once more to the small of her back. “Come on, let’s see if we can find Rachel.”
Mary nodded and let him steer her around the room. There were a lot of second glances as they went by. Mary wasn’t sure if they were for her or her dress. The dress was a sleeveless, dark blue, with an asymmetrical hem line. It had a layer of tulle in the skirt that made it flutter around her knees. She loved the dress. Gran wouldn’t tell her where she’d gotten it. When she’d presented it to Mary, the girl had gotten misty-eyed. She’d touched it reverently. Gran had assured her that it was brand new and ghost-free. After the disaster with the Goodwill dress, Mary hadn’t tried going dress shopping again and had resolved herself to wearing her swing dancing/funeral dress to the Homecoming dance. This was so much better. The outer shell of the dress was shiny and silky. A thrill had gone through her at her first touch of the dress, but it had not been due to anything paranormal. It had been a normal teen girl’s thrill at getting something nice, and this was the nicest thing Mary had ever received.
She’d immediately tried on the dress and it fit perfectly. She hadn’t taken it off until it was time to go to bed. She couldn’t stop going by mirrors to look at herself. She’d made excuses to go back and forth from the kitchen to the living room so that she’d pass the large mirror that hung on the wall. She’d slow down and look at herself as she went by marveling at how the material moved and hung on her. Gran had laughed at her, but it was obvious that she was very pleased that Mary liked the dress so much. Not as pleased as Mary. But close.
Things soured a little when Mary chose her footwear. Gran had planned to take her out to find dress shoes, but Mary hated dress shoes. She had a pair of lace up, knee high boots she wanted to wear. Gran had been adamantly opposed to her fashion choice. It had ruined the joy of the dress a little. At the end, Mary had offered to let Gran do her makeup if she could wear the boots. Gran had quickly accepted this, and the matter was settled. Having makeup control was a big deal. Mary had been known to draw scrollwork on half her face with eyeliner. Mary thought it looked cool, but Gran never wanted to go out in public with her like that.
So instead of a swirls coming out from the corner of her eyes, Mary’s face was adorned conventionally with a light layer of smoky eye shadow, some pale lip gloss, a smidge of blush, and eyeliner that was only around her eyes. Mary, of course, didn’t tell Gran, but she’d had no intention of drawing all over her face. But letting Gran do her makeup meant she had on her boots, and she thought they rocked with the dress.
Kyle hadn’t seemed to mind the boots either. When he’d come by to pick her up, his mouth had hung open for a minute. She’d waited for him to say something. When he didn’t, she’d begun to worry.
“Having second thoughts?” she’d asked, beginning to fidget. Maybe Gran had been right and she should’ve gotten some heels. Or he’d finally come to his senses and realized he was about to be seen at one of the biggest social events of the school with the class freak.
Kyle shook his head. “What? No. You look great.”
“Don’t sound so shocked,” she said dryly.
He blinked. “Are you having second thoughts?” he asked uncertainly.
Mary blew out a breath. “No, I’m nervous. Are you sure about this?”
“Pictures! I need pictures!” Gran announced, coming into the room holding a disposable point and click. She took a moment to look over Kyle and gave him an approving nod. “You look very nice, Kyle.”
He smiled at Gran. “Thanks, Mrs. Dubont. Mary looks fantastic.”
Gran hmmed as she checked the camera. “Yes, I suppose even the boots are nice.”
Mary rolled her eyes.
Gran motioned for them to stand together. Mary moved over to him, and he put his hand on her back. “You do look great. I always thought you were pretty, but I’ve never seen you like this,” he murmured into her ear.
“Smile!” Gran said.
Mary put on a smile, but she really wanted to look at Kyle. His hand ran up and down her back. It made her shiver. Gran clicked the camera a few more times. “Okay, I guess that’s enough. Have fun tonight you two.”
“We will, Mrs. Dubont. Thanks,” Kyle said as he ushered Mary out.
When the door had closed behind them, Mary had known there was no going back. She was on her way to the Homecoming Dance. But first there was dinner. They went to Amici’s. The place had been packed with other Homecoming-goers. Everyone noticed Kyle and Mary, but no one messed with them. Mary knew it was probably because of Kyle. He was well-liked and formidable. She happily used him as a social shield. Thus dinner had been good.
And now they were at the dance.
“I see them,” Kyle said and led her through the crowd. She stayed close to him, holding onto his arm, using him as a physical shield now. As they crossed the gym, guys brushed past Kyle, giving him friendly greetings and slaps on the shoulder. Kyle returned all of them with ease. She gave nods and shy smiles to his friends and their dates, but they weren’t people Mary knew.
Kyle kept going with confidence and ease. Mary really admired that about him. She never wanted to be popular, but she had to admit that it seemed to make some people glow with happiness. Kyle practically had a golden halo by the time they crossed the gym.
Rachel and Taryn were sitting at a corner table. Rachel hadn’t gotten her wish exactly. Instead of being asked to Homecoming by someone she liked, she’d done the asking. Mary was so glad that Taryn had said yes. Rachel was dressed in a sexy lady suit while Taryn wore a beaded flapper dress. They looked awesome together.
Rachel hadn’t seen Mary’s dress before the dance. She blew a loud wolf whistle at the sight of her. Mary did a little twirl in response.
“Wow, Mary. Where’d you get that?”
Mary shrugged her shoulders. “Gran got it. She won’t say.”
“Well, I, obviously need to go shopping with her.”
“You both look great,” Mary told the two girls.
Rachel slung her arm around Taryn’s neck. “We know.”
“You look great, too, Kyle,” Taryn said.
Kyle gently grabbed Mary’s waist from behind and stepped in close. “Thanks, but I know I wouldn’t look half as good on my own.”
Mary could feel her cheeks heating up.
Rachel hopped up. “Well, now that we’re all here. Let’s dance!” She turned and offered her arm to Taryn who regally took it.
Kyle gave Mary’s waist a gently squeeze. “Well?” he asked. His breath tickled her ear. Goosebumps went up her arms.
A fast song was playing, and the dance floor was only half full with other couples. There were several groups of only girls dancing as their dates leaned against the walls watching. Mary liked to dance, though she only had with Rachel. She took Kyle’s hand and led him onto the dance floor. They started dancing with Taryn and Rachel beside them. Soon they were laughing and joking while they danced, and Mary’s cheeks hurt from all of the smiling. It was amazing.
After another upbeat song, a slow song started. Kyle raised an eyebrow as he moved in closer. “Okay?” he asked as he put him hands on her waist.
Mary stepped in close and put her arms around his neck. She put her head on his shoulder. They began to sway. She sighed as her heart rate slowed and she calmed down.
“Still want to set off the sprinklers?” Kyle asked quietly.
“Evening’s gotta end at some point,” she said.
He chuckled and rested his head against hers. Mary relaxed and let him lead. The dance floor had filled up as all of the couples crowded on. It was a sea of swaying teens. Mary’s eyes drifted over them. It wasn’t often she was part of the crowd. Too often, she was on the sidelines looking on at everyone else. Being among them was an unusual treat.
As she looked around, she recognized another swaying couple. Cy and Vicky were dancing a few yards away. Mary idly watched them, curiosity keeping her attention on them. She’d never seen them doing couple-y things. Sure, she’d seen them together, but not holding hands or hugging or anything. They looked comfortable together and seemed to fit. Mary could admit they looked good. As the pair made a slow turn, Vicky spotted her. The cheerleader raised a silent eyebrow. Mary gave her a slight nod of acknowledgment before turning her gaze away.
Her eyes immediately picked out another familiar person. Mr. Landa stood by the wall, watching the dance floor. Ms. Myers stood beside him. They were shoulder to shoulder actually. Mary’s eyes bounced back and forth between them. They seemed pretty comfortable together. She wondered if there was some gossip there. Again, she stared too long and Mr. Landa spotted her staring. She gave him a small wave and he raised his punch glass to her. She wondered what he thought of her attendance. Maybe he’d put a check mark in her file.
Kyle laughed at something he saw from his side of the dance floor.
“What?” she asked, lifting her head.
“Rachel,” he murmured.
He swung them around so Mary faced that direction, and she caught the tail-end of the deep dip Rachel had performed with Taryn.
“Don’t do that with me,” Mary said.
“But we can’t let them be the better dancers,” he countered.
“Yes, we can,” she shot back.
He took her hand and firmed up his grip on her waist.
“Don’t you dare, Kyle,” she said, freezing up.
“I promise I won’t drop you.”
“Well, I promise to twist my ankle if you try.”
He laughed, and luckily, the music faded out before he could attempt anything. Mary slipped out of his arms and gave him a distrustful look. He grinned at her unrepentantly. He reached out and pulled her back to his side. She let herself be pulled and bumped into him good-naturedly. Everyone turned towards the stage as Principal Hoke climbed the steps with a microphone.
“If I could have everyone’s attention,” she said.
The gymnasium went quiet. She held up an envelope. “It’s time to announce the Homecoming Court.”
Mary noticed several of Kyle’s buddies turned and gave him enthusiastic thumbs up. He groaned and covered his eyes.
“What’s that about?” she whispered.
Kyle sighed. “They thought it would be funny to nominate me.”
Mary hadn’t known this. The seniors voted on who would be picked for Homecoming king and queen while the lower classmen chose a prince and princess for their respective classes. She hadn’t wondered who was nominated among the seniors since she didn’t know many. Vicky and Cy had been on the ballot for the junior class. Mary had voted for them, but only because they were the only familiar names on the ballot.
Principal Hoke opened the envelope. She announced the prince and princess for the freshmen. Mary had no idea who they were. They went up the stage and accepted crowns and sashes to polite applause. Next were the sophomores. Again, Mary didn’t know who they were.
“The junior prince and princess are Cyrus Asher and Vicky Nelson.”
There was general applause for the couple as they went up to the stage. Mary wasn’t surprised that they won. It seemed inevitable really. Cy escorted Vicky up, and they received their crowns and sashes with general grace and nonchalance. This was just another feather in Vicky’s overstuffed cap.
“Jesus, of course, he won,” Kyle said under his breath, sounding unhappy.
Mary slipped her hand into Kyle’s and gave it a squeeze. She knew the brothers had a bit of friction. Kyle felt Cy was handed things to him while he had to work to earn everything. She didn’t think that was entirely true, but she could sympathize.
“Now allow me to present your homecoming king and queen Kyle Asher and Hilary Easton!”
The room erupted in cheers. There were loud hoots and wolf whistles. Stomping feet and energetic clapping filled the air as well. The sudden enthusiasm made Mary jump. Kyle shook his head and gave Mary a kiss on the cheek before heading to the stage. As he went, guys swarmed him to congratulate him. He gave them all rueful thanks and oaths of revenge. Mary watched his back recede in disbelief. She was dating the homecoming king? That couldn’t be right.
Rachel and Taryn came up and stood on either side of Mary. “Whoa, did not expect this turn of events,” Rachel said.
“I don’t know. Kyle does seem to be really popular,” Taryn commented.
“I can’t believe this,” Mary said.
Kyle accepted his crown, sash, and scepter. He waved the scepter at the crowd to general uproar. Hilary, a girl Mary only recognized vaguely, smiled hugely and put her arm around Kyle’s as they took position at the center of the assembled court. Mary remembered that Hilary did the beauty pageant circuit. Her picture had been in the paper when she’d won something. She looked natural in crown and sash. The room lit up with flash bulbs.
Mary once again felt like she was on the sidelines looking in. Even if most of the room was with her on the sidelines, it still twisted her gut a little. What was she doing here? Who was she kidding?
To her right, she heard one of Kyle’s buddies say to another, “Aw man, it’s so great that Kyle won.”
“I know, man. He totally tried to campaign against it.”
“I know. He threatened to send his girlfriend after us if we went through with it.”
“Yeah, but no matter what, it was worth it.”
Mary glanced over at the two jocks. Nominating Kyle and getting him crowned homecoming king seemed like an odd joke to pull on someone. The fact that Kyle hadn’t wanted it was also a little odd. Wasn’t this what popular kids wanted? Vicky certainly looked like she’d cut anyone who tried to take her crown away.
Kyle and Hilary looked good together. She was only an inch shorter than him in her heels. Her arm fit perfectly around his. Mary wondered if they shared any classes. If they talked. If they were friends. What was Mary doing with him?
“Tell Kyle I went to the restroom,” Mary said to Rachel. Her friend gave her a questioning look, but nodded her head.
She left the gym and went to the bathroom. She stood at a sink and checked her makeup. Nothing was smudged. Her hair was a little tangled from dancing. She took out her brush and began to smooth it out.
From her purse, her phone beeped, indicating a new text message. She pulled it out to take a look.
*You look really nice tonight.*
She smiled. It was Jake, the mysterious guy who’d helped save her from the Shadowman. He’d always known when she was in trouble and who to call to get her help. He may not have been physically there to help her, but he’d earned the MVP award during that whole ordeal and her eternal goodwill.
As soon as she’d gotten her prepaid phone working again, he’d started texting her. They never talked on the phone, but practically everyday, he sent her simple text messages like *Your hair looks nice,* or *Good luck on that test.* She hadn’t told anyone that he was texting her. She liked having a secret friend. She’d learned a few things about him, like he had a younger sister and that he hated math. Mary hadn’t needed to tell him much of anything about herself because he could just see it. His gift was called remote viewing. She hadn’t known what that was and had to look it up. It was a really odd but cool ability. The CIA and the KGB had actually studied it and tried to train operatives to use it. Mary didn’t understand how Jake’s ability worked. One website had described it as dowsing the universe. To Mary, dowsing meant using a Y-shaped stick to find stuff buried in the ground. She’d asked Jake about it, and he’d said he didn’t use anything. He just needed to think about what he wanted to see and an image would form in his mind. That was how he’d always known where she was and who to call when the Shadowman possessed her. When she’d asked him how he’d happened to think of her, he’d simply texted back that he’d wanted to know someone who was like him--Different. When he’d closed his eyes, there she was. For once her ability to talk to ghosts hadn’t alienated her to someone. It linked them. She liked that. And she liked Jake.
*Thanks. Did you see Kyle win Homecoming King?*
*Yeah, he seems really popular.*
Mary sighed at this. She had to face facts. Kyle was really popular, in spite of her. *I know. I can’t believe he’s dating me.*
That little statement made Mary’s heart flutter again. She smiled at her phone’s screen. Someone else came into the restroom. Mary looked up. It was Vicky, still in her crown and sash. Vicky’s eyes fell on Mary’s phone. She raised an eyebrow and gave Mary a knowing look.
“What?” Mary asked. She slipped the phone back into her purse.
Vicky went to a sink and looked at herself in the mirror. “Nothing. I just wondered who you could be texting since everyone you know is here tonight.”
“It’s none of your business.”
Vicky didn’t seem to agree. She checked her makeup and adjusted her crown. Mary waited, not sure why she didn’t leave. Once Vicky was satisfied with her appearance, she turned back to her. “So did you ever find out who that freak was that was calling all of us while you were possessed?”
Mary bristled at the casual insult directed at Jake. “He’s not a freak.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I’m going back to my date. Kyle’s waiting for you outside.”
Vicky gave herself one last look in the mirror and exited. Had Vicky come in just to harass her? Mary wondered dourly. She glanced at herself in the mirror, but couldn’t meet her own gaze. Her eyes dropped to her clutch purse and then darted away. She exited to find Kyle waiting right outside for her.
“Did you send in Vicky to look for me?” she asked dourly.
Kyle’s eyes widened a fraction. “Yeah, sorry? I wasn’t sure if you were in there and she was close by.”
“Well, don’t do that again. It just annoys both of us.”
Kyle dropped his head sheepishly. He still had on his sash and crown. She wondered what he’d done with the scepter.
“Homecoming king, congrats man!” A jock yelled into Kyle’s ear while giving him a friendly shake. Kyle shrugged the guy off with a friendly shove. His friend laughed and kept going. Once he was gone, Mary crossed her arms and leaned against the wall.
“So I’m dating the homecoming king,” she said dryly.
Kyle’s good humor turned to embarrassment. “Yeah, I know it’s stupid.”
Seeing his discomfort and knowing that she’d caused it made Mary blanch. She pushed off the wall and stepped up to Kyle. She dropped her eyes and twisted from side-to-side shyly. It was only half an act. “Would the homecoming king like to dance with me?”
Kyle held out his hand. She raised her eyes to meet his. He smiled down at her. “I’d like nothing better.”
They went back to the dance floor. Kyle’s arms felt familiar now going around her. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and sighed.
“Having fun?” he asked.
Mary nodded against his shoulder. “Yeah, I’m really glad we came.”
“Me too,” he said as he slowly twirled them around.
They slow danced for several more songs. Mary only checked the clock when she needed to yawn. It was almost eleven. “It’s getting late,” she said.
Kyle hmmed but didn’t loosen his hold on her. Mary gently pushed him off with a smile. “Come on, take me home before I turn into a pumpkin.”
“I like pumpkins,” Kyle said, pulling her back. “One more dance,” he murmured.
Mary sighed and put her arms back around him. “Okay, homecoming king. One more dance.”
“It’s good to be the king,” he said. Mary had to chuckle at that.
Mary snuggled into Kyle’s jacket as they walked to her back porch. When they’d left, he’d slipped it onto her shoulders before she even realized how much it had cooled down. She’d have to give it back to him in a minute, but she wanted to eke out a few more moments of enjoyment from it. She had to admit there was something inherently romantic about the guy giving the girl his coat. Maybe it was the fact that it was still warm from his body. It was like getting a sartorial hug.
Mary went up the step and turned to face Kyle. She was a few inches taller than him for the moment. The reversal in height made her smile as she tilted her head down to kiss him. She’d been feeling pretty content and a little bit sleepy so was startled when Kyle grabbed her by the waist and jerked her against his body. His tongue pushed into her mouth with a force that startled her. Overwhelmed by his sudden passion, she just tried to stay upright and not fall back onto the porch. Kyle broke off the kiss as quickly as he started it. He rested his forehead against hers while they both panted.
“What was that for?” she asked.
“For being the greatest girlfriend in the world.”
“If you think I’m the greatest, you don’t get out much. I’m sure there’s a girl in Zimbabwe better than me.”
Kyle shook his head. His forehead rolled against hers. “Nope, not for me. No offense to the chick in Zimbabwe.”
Mary smiled shyly. She shifted her head to give him a peck on the cheek. “Have fun at the game tomorrow.”
“You sure you don’t want to go?”
She shook her head. “I’ll let the guys have you to themselves, after all, you are their king.”
Kyle huffed at the reminder. “I still can’t believe they did this to me.”
Mary finally got to ask why that bothered him. “But why aren’t you happy about it? I thought people liked this sort of thing.”
“Would you want to be homecoming queen?”
Mary shook her head. Not even taking a moment to consider the idea. “The only way that would happen is if I was immediately drenched in pig’s blood.”
“But if there was no pig’s blood, would you want it?”
Now Mary didn’t know. She looked away and felt a little afraid. She wanted to be normal. Popularity was a part of normality. She knew, though, that she’d never have it. She’d hear ghosts and never be a happy, shiny person.
“You’re my homecoming queen.”
Mary’s eyes went back to Kyle. He was smiling softly at her. She pulled his mouth back to hers for another kiss. This one under her initiation. It was slower and less frantic, but seemed more intense than the previous kiss. Mary’s body molded to Kyle’s as they both tightened their arms around each other. She only broke away finally when she started becoming light-headed. They both panted against each other’s cheeks. Kyle’s hands kneaded her back. Mary pulled back and slipped his jacket off her shoulders.
“Night, Kyle,” she said softly.
He wordlessly nodded back still panting. He turned and stumbled like he was drunk. He quickly caught himself and made his way back to his truck. Mary watched him pull away before going into the house.