FOR RENT: Not in the Christmas spirit? Remote cabin in the White Mountains of NH. All amenities except TV and phone. Spend the holiday season far from the hustle and bustle. Available Dec 15-Dec 30.
Jessica Newton killed the SUV’s engine and let out the deep breath she’d been holding for the last quarter of a mile.
It was perfect. One small cabin. One laptop. Lots of treesâ€”none with stars on top. No Christmas wishes or fruitcakes. No commercials. No strings of twinkling lights. Here she’d be surrounded by nature instead of thousands of cell phones all chirping out tinny electronic versions of sappy Christmas carols.
She was free. Free to despise the holidays without everybody and their favorite reindeer trying to fix her. She just couldnâ€™t take it this year. One more Scrooge joke and she’d have been shoving tinsel down somebody’s throat.
Her boots crunched in the recently plowed snow as she made her way up the driveway to the rustic porch. It was probably too cold to enjoy the matching rocking chairs, but they looked homey and inviting, nonetheless. The key provided by the local real estate agent who handled the rental turned easily in the lock and she pushed the door open.
At the same moment, the chair closest to her rocked.
Jessica stepped back, her breath making quick, frozen puffs in the air. Okay, that was weird. It couldn’t be cross-draft from opening the door. The chair had rocked hard enough that it was still going, and it gave the kind of old-fashioned creak that came from having weight in it.
Old superstitions reared in her mind, and Jessica laughed out loud at herself. Though she made a very nice living keeping her readers afraid of the dark, she wasn’t prone to her imagination going off on weird tangents when she wasn’t writing. Whatever the logical explanation was, it didnâ€™t involve ghosts making themselves at home.
She shook it off and walked into her Christmas-free home away from home for two blissful weeks. The floor plan was a simple rectangle. The front three-quarters of the box had a center living room, with the kitchen and a half-bath to the right, and the bedroom with full bath to the left. The back of the rectangle was a wide hall, lined with windows overlooking a deck. The deck overlooked a frozen pond that would have been perfect for ice-skating if she knew how. A twin cot, a bookcase and a reading chair were gathered at one end of the hall, while a little breakfast nook had been built into the other.
On a whim, Jessica knelt in front of the bookcase and cocked her head sideways to scan the spines. When she got to the second shelf, she smiled and pulled out a paperback. It was new enough to have not been pulled from a rummage sale box, but creased enough to have been read once or twice.
She smiled and ran her fingertips over the embossed cover. New York Times Bestselling Author. The title superimposed over a dark, out of focus house of horrors. At the bottom her nameâ€”the one she used professionally. J. C. Newton.
Jessica slid her most recent bestseller back into its slot. She tried not to focus on previous books while writing the current one. The pressure of being at the top of her genre and the top of the lists was enough without dwelling on books gone by.
She stood and surveyed her temporary home with a sigh of satisfaction. The cabin would do nicely, she decided. It was simple, without all the bells, whistles and chrome of her Boston condo, but it was quiet.
Very quiet. Jessica was a heart of the city girl, and being able to hear the wind rustling the bare branches of the trees beyond the windows was creepy. She pulled the sticky note the real estate agent had given her from her pocket, trying to decipher the scrawled directions on how to make a cell call. Drive .75 miles up dirt road. Bear left at fork and continue up hill. At top, park. Climb onto roof of vehicle. On clear day, cell reception is possible. She’d certainly need that if some demented mountain man decided to come after her with an axe.
Hmmâ€¦Jessica considered it, then mentally discarded the kernel of plot. Done to death. She stuck the note to the fridge and went out to the SUV to carry in her bags. First the laptop, then her suitcases. Finally, what seemed now like a year’s worth of groceries. It was only ten miles to the nearest grocery store, but she was going to avoid making that trip for anything short of an emergency caffeine shortage. Even supermarkets piped in the Christmas music and decked the halls.
This year Jessica was having none of that.
* * * * *
The bright blue numbers on the bedside clock read twelve-fifteen when she heard it.
Jessica sat straight up. She knew she wasn’t dreaming. She hadn’t even fallen asleep yet. But there it was again. There was a man singing that tacky song about somebody’s drunken grandmother being run down by reindeer.
That damn real estate agent had assured her she wouldn’t be able to hear her nearest neighbors no matter how enthusiastic their revelry. Most of the camps around the pond stood empty this time of year, she’d said. The snowmobilers had to stay home and do the Christmas thing with their families, and there were no ski areas nearby.
Jessica slid out of the too-soft bed and crept through the moonlit cabin on bare feet. She peered through the wall of windows, but couldn’t make out even a glimpse of Christmas lights through the trees.
The singing stopped at the same instant Jessica became aware of the man. Not on the other side of the glass, but standing in front of her couch.
She spun to face him, her mind racing. If she ran for the bedroom, he’d catch her and have the upper hand. If she made a break for the door, sheâ€™d not only have to get by him, but grab her keys from the end table on the way by. And if she ducked out the slider behind her, what then? The thought of running around in the dark, snowy woods was almost as scary as the intruder.
He hadn’t yet made a threatening move, though. Maybe there was a benign reason for his presence. An insomniac handyman who didnâ€™t realize sheâ€™d arrived? A double-booking mistake by the real estate?
She’d stand her ground for now. After a psychotic fan had tried forcing her to reenact chapter twelve of her second book, she’d learned a few things about defending herself.
The man was a little taller than her, and lean, muscular and attractive. If they’d met anywhere but this cabin in the middle of the night, she’d probably consider him sexy as hell. In the moonlight his short hair was dark. She wished she could see what color his eyes were. Then she got distracted by the gleam of white when he grinned.
And still the intruder said nothing. She wasn’t about to stand around in the dark all night, so she drew in a steadying breath and made the first move. â€śWho are you?â€ť
The man clapped his hands and the overhead light came on. His eyes were brownâ€”a warm, honey brown and his hair matched. He wore jeans and a blue flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up his forearms, both well-worn and soft looking. Battered brown boots covered his feet, and she noticed they were clean and dry. He couldn’t have just come from outside.
â€śNeat trick with the lights,â€ť she muttered.
â€śIt’s one of those Clapper devices,â€ť he replied, and his voice sent shivers down her spine. It was deliciously deep and husky.
â€śSo now that I can see you, who are you?â€ť Jessica smoothed her hand over her hair anxiously. If she could see him, he could see her. With her hair mussed and no mascara to emphasize her washed-out blue eyes, she probably didn’t look her best.
Like it matters. This was either a mistake and he’d be leaving soon, or he was a homicidal maniac who’d broken in and she’d have to hurt him soon. In either case, her appearance was totally irrelevant.
â€śI’m the ghost,â€ť the man said cheerfully. â€śI live here.â€ť
The ghost? The real estate agent had given her every emergency number in the county and directions on where to stand on the roof of her car to make a call, but she’d forgotten to mention the ghost?
â€śJacob Marley, I presume?â€ť Jessica snapped, but then she laughed. â€śMy agent sent you, right?â€ť
It had to have been Harry who set up this ridiculous practical joke. He was the only person who knew where she was, and only because he’d have called out the National Guard if his money tree went missing for two weeks.
The man disappeared. Jessica blinked andâ€”poof!â€”he was gone. Before she could even react, he reappeared next to her. Instinct kicked in and she struck out, but he was kind of blurry and the heel of her hand passed right through his nose. Then he poofed again and reappeared a few feet away.
â€śThat wasn’t nice.â€ť
Neither were any of the words flying around in her mind, so she kept her mouth shut.
â€śIf I was Jacob Marley I’d be dragging chains around,â€ť he pointed out, and Jessica was surprised she could even hear him over the hysterical screaming in her head. â€śI’m Zachary Roberts, but everybody calls me Zach. Or they did when I was alive, anyway.â€ť
â€śThereâ€™s too much fresh air up here,â€ť she said, shaking her head. Sleepwalking and dreaming at the same time. She had to be. Despite being the queen of things that went bump in the night, Jessica didn’t believe in ghosts. Sleeping in a strange bed without the crappy air quality and ambient sounds of the city was clearly taking its toll on her.
â€śAren’t you going to ask me how I died?â€ť Zach the ghost asked, jerking her away from her musings on her own mental state. “Everybody does.”
â€śNo. I’m going back to bed.â€ť Jessica spun and went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Zach watched his guest slam the bedroom door in his face and sighed. Being a ghost was hell on a man’s ego.
He let his physical body dissipate and hovered in the room like a horny little ball of energy. At least in this form he didn’t have to deal with the hard-on from hell.
It sucked being dead. Once he’d mastered the art of becoming solid, he’d found himself fully-functional in the libido department. He could even have an orgasm, though there were no bodily fluids involved. Hell, the whole situation gave new meaning to safe sex, if only potential sex partners could just get past his being a ghost.
Sure, there had been a few open-minded ladies in the decade since the unfortunate incident with the roof, a string of lights and the inflatable Santa. But they invariably left him for guys who weren’t dead. He didn’t blame them, of course, but it made for a lonely eternal existence.
Zach found this woman more attractive than all of the cabin’s former tenants combined. She wasn’t skinny and she didn’t have crap painted all over her face to make her look and taste artificial. He shuddered, remembering the hideous waxy flavor of lipstick. This woman was nicely plump and curvy, with pretty blue eyes and tousled, shoulder-length blonde hair.
He knew her name was Jessica. The real estate agent had been yapping to the cleaning service lady when they were getting the cabin ready. But that was all he knew.
Well, that and the fact she wore no wedding ring and had no loved ones who cared if she was alone for the holidays. It was up to Zach to make her days merry and bright. And, if he was very lucky, he might get to make her nights jolly, as well.
“From humorous conversations to convincingly depicted emotions, this holiday story from Shannon Stacey will speak to your heart as well as tickle your funny bone. The storyline for IN THE SPIRIT is cleverly penned, where each moment is lively and sparkles with passion and wit. […]
“From the instant IN THE SPIRIT was started, I was amazed by all the entertaining situations to be found on each page. Shannon Stacey knows how to portray her characters genuinely with every day emotions, and the reactions of Jessica and Zach are energetic plus full of passion. Their enthusiastic behavior leads to frequent animated encounters between this playful couple, each of which was packed with very potent feelings. The good-humored nature exhibited by Zach is infectious to the reader, and his carefree ways will have one experiencing plenty of smiles. As Jessica and Zach begin to know each other more intimately on all levels, their inner wishes become more personal and made their story all the more touching. The fun way in which the paranormal element of Zach being a ghost was handled shrewdly by Ms. Stacey, making the situation seem plausible. The enchanting moments of magic all through the story make this holiday tale even more rewarding. IN THE SPIRIT is an innovative story bursting with humor and emotional intensity.” —5 Stars from Amelia of eCataromance
“This light-hearted tale by Shannon Stacey is filled with fun and frivolity. From the first word I was captured in the Christmas spirit, even as the heroine fought against hers. I know that if I found a ghost inhabiting a cabin I’d hope he was as gorgeous as Zach Roberts sounds!
“My biggest gripe about this story was that Jessica didn’t seem too disconcerted to find her cabin inhabited by a ghost. I think we are to assume that since she writes horror, that things like this don’t faze her. Maybe, but I would still have liked to see a bit more of a struggle with this issue. However, the way they negotiated their way through the Christmas decorations was fantastic.”
“If you are looking for a fun story with lots of heat then look no further. IN THE SPIRIT is a feel-good holiday romance that will leave you smiling.” —Michelle, Rites of Romance Reviews
“IN THE SPIRIT by Shannon Stacey is one book I liked from the first chapter and I fell in love with Zach’s feelings towards Christmas. The one thing I didn’t like was Jessica’s attitude towards Christmas but like all things it comes to an end even if you are Ms. Grinch. Zach and Jessica are awesome in this book from their moods to their passion in the bed and everywhere else. IN THE SPIRIT is a great read for this Christmas for it has a true meaning to never stop believing in Christmas.” —4 Angels from Lena C. of Fallen Angel Reviews