© Dakota Madison & Savannah Young 2015
I gasp for breath. Then I cough. The brisk air stings my lungs.I’m on the cold, hard ground, not hanging from the tree like I’m supposed to be, and I’m definitely not dead.When I open my eyes I’m glad it’s dusk. I don’t think I could take the glare of the sun right now. Dusk was always my favorite time of day, when nature’s light is fading away.My neck feels raw, but there’s no rope on it. I search around me, but the rope seems to have vanished.I spot a guy dressed in all black. He’s sitting on a black H-D Iron 883, very similar to the motorcycle I ride.A shiver runs through me when I realize the guy is watching me.He must have been the one who did it. He cut me down from the tree. I have a vague memory of a struggle. Of strong arms grabbing me and holding me tight. I fought against him, but I was hopelessly outmatched.I wanted to die but I realized he wasn’t going to let me.
Then I blacked out, and woke up on the ground.
I wonder how long he’s going to sit there. It’s almost like he’s guarding me. Then he opens a black satchel on his bike and removes a rope—my rope—and holds it up for me to see.
I feel like he’s taunting me with it. Why does this asshole care if I live or die?
When I give him the finger he doesn’t respond. He just puts on his dark helmet and speeds away, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.
I think about some of the other ways I could kill myself, but those methods leave a margin of error that I’m not comfortable with. I don’t want to jump in front of a moving truck only to be paralyzed for life and still not dead.
Besides, I’m suddenly hungry and craving a burger and fries in the worst way. I guess today is not the day for me to die.
Six Weeks Later
Another exciting day at the Old Town Antique Shop. I’ve had only two customers and only one who actually bought something. It’s a good thing the building is completely paid for, I live right upstairs, and my grandmother was extremely generous to me in her will. I certainly couldn’t afford to run a real business on the pittance the store makes on a weekly basis.
I would have been out of Old Town by now if my grandmother didn’t croak. And she didn’t stipulate in her will that I had to keep the antique shop running in order to get the money she entrusted to me. I’m the last living member of the Grant family and I now have the honor of running the business that’s been in our family for generations.
I glance down at the stash of romance novels I keep hidden under the counter. I know they’re cheesy, but right now they’re the only things that are keeping me from slashing my wrists when I’m in the bathtub. They give me the slightest bit of hope that maybe someday; someone will love the town pariah. Even the meanest girls in romance novels always get the guy.
I’m deep in a very hot sex scene when I’m startled by the little bell that chimes when the front door opens.
I’m even more surprised by the guy who walks into my shop. Or more like strolls in. He’s wearing a wild flowered Hawaiian shirt over a red Green Day T-shirt, faded cargo pants and red converse high tops. He runs his hands through his mop of sun-bleached blond hair, but it doesn’t help. Old Town is always windy, but his hair isn’t just windblown. It’s a little too long and looks shaggy.
He’s definitely not from Old Town.
After giving me a quick once over he grins. His grin is too wide and his teeth are too perfect and too white. I already hate him.
“You know we’re nowhere near the shore?” I try not to sound as disgusted as this guy is making me.
He laughs. He seems like the kind of guy who laughs easily. I hate him even more.
“I’m not here to surf.”
I give him a once over. “You could have fooled me.”
He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a shiny business card. He wiggles it in my face so the light overhead reflects off of it.
I rip the card out of his hand just to make the glare stop. “What’s wrong with you?”
He laughs again, which makes me even more perturbed. Not that it’s difficult to do. Most people are able to get on my bad side pretty quickly.
“Do you want a list?” He raises an eyebrow at me.
I shake my head and examine his card:
Old Town Ghost Tours. Max Elliot, Paranormal Investigator.
Great. Not only is he starting to be the most annoying person on the planet, he’s also one of those ghost hunting freaks.
I try to hand the card back to him, but he puts his hands up and shakes them at me. “The card is yours to keep.”
If I had a trash can close I’d make a point of throwing the thing inside of it, but the trash can is on the other side of this weirdo and I don’t feel like walking past him to get to it.
“You didn’t answer my question.” I glare at him.
“What’s wrong with me?” He looks down at his watch, which I now notice has Mickey Mouse on it. “How much time do you have?”
I give an exasperated sigh. “What can I help you with?”
He grins again. Boy does this guy like to smile a lot. He must think it’s charming, and maybe some girls are into that, but I’m definitely not one of them. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve smiled so far this year.
And I don’t go for blonds and definitely not beach boy blonds with big smiles. I prefer the dark and dangerous type, all in black leather, preferably riding a motorcycle.
“I’d love for you to go out with me, but we can negotiate that later. I’m here to see Alberta Grant. Something tells me that you’re not Alberta.”
“I’m Izzy Grant,” I reply, but I’m not sure why. I don’t really want anything to do with this guy.
“What’s Izzy short for?”
I frown. “Izzy.”
No one calls me by my given name, and definitely not this guy. I only give it out on a need-to-know basis.
“Okay, Izzy. How can I find Alberta?”
I narrow my eyes at him. “You’re obviously not from around here.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Well, you’re not wearing jeans and cowboy boots for starters.” And you have no idea my grandmother is dead. Everyone in town knows that.
He points to his business card lying on the counter. “Just moved here. I’m trying to start a business.”
“In Old Town?”
He nods. “I’m going to capitalize on the popularity of the Tawnee Mountain Resort. The guests need some nighttime entertainment and ghost hunting is really popular right now.”
I don’t feel like stating the obvious. That there’s no such thing as ghosts.
I decide to play with the guy because he’s annoying and it’s not like I have anything better to do.
“Alberta isn’t here right now, but I can take you to her.”
He grins again. Oh how I wish I could just slap that big grin right off of his perfect, beach boy face. Then he looks around the place. “Are you sure you aren’t too busy?”
I narrow my gaze at him. “I’ll make time for you.”
“See, you already like me.”
If he only knew.
I lock up the store and hang up my OUT TO LUNCH sign. Max follows me to the small parking lot on the side of the store.
I stop in front of my old Harley H-D Iron 883. “Do you want a ride? I’ve got an extra helmet.”
He laughs. “There is no way I’m riding on the back of a chick’s motorcycle.”
I point a finger in his face. “I’m not a chick. And if you ever call me that again, I’ll rip your dick off.”
He puts his hands up. “Okay, chill. It’s just an expression. Can we take my car instead?”
I glance at the bright red Mini Cooper parked at the other end of the parking lot. “That’s not a real vehicle. That’s a clown car.”
“This isn’t just any Mini Cooper. It’s a special limited edition.”
I frown. “Just an FYI. If you plan on living in Old Town you’ll attract a lot less attention if you’re driving a pickup, preferably a Ford or a Dodge Ram.”
He grins. Another one of those huge grins that irritate every nerve in my body. “Who says I don’t want attention?”
I shake my head. “Never mind.”
I’m short, only about five feet two inches, and I’m worried about fitting inside that car. I have no idea how Max, who’s easily a foot taller than me, fits inside of it.
“Okay, we can take your car,” I agree, but only because I want to see how he squeezes inside that thing.
He pulls his keys from his pocket and starts throwing them in the air like he’s juggling with them. The guy has no shortage of ways to completely annoy me.
To my surprise Max fits into his car better than I imaged he would. He’s got the seat pushed back as far as it will go, so his legs aren’t cramped.
“You could buy a bigger car,” I say as I snap on my seat belt. “Being such a big guy.”
He laughs. “Are you kidding? This car is a chick magnet. I’ve known you less than fifteen minutes and I’ve already got you inside of it.”
When he winks at me I feel a little bile rise in my throat like I want to vomit. “Just so we’re clear. You’re not my type.”
He waves the comment off like a mosquito. “I’m everyone’s type.”
“Not mine,” I repeat.
“You won’t know for sure until you’ve had a chance to test the goods.” Then he winks at me.
Now I’m really going to be sick. “I’m not interested in testing any of your goods. Do you want to see my grandmother or not?”
He heaves a sigh. “Tell me where to drive.”
Five minutes later we pull up to the Old Town Cemetery. As soon as Max parks the car he turns and looks at me. “Is this your idea of a joke?”
“You’re the ghost hunter. Isn’t this like your Valhalla or something?”
He rolls his eyes at me. “Most graveyards aren’t haunted. Spirits like to stay close to loved ones, or places they were most familiar with before they died.”
“Whatever you say.” I open the door and hop out of his clown car.
I’m surprised when he follows. Part of me thought he’d just turn the engine back on and speed away.
As I open the cemetery gate I’m overwhelmed with sadness…again. It’s been happening a lot lately…ever since my grandmother died. She was the last of my relatives, and now I’m alone in the world. Not that I’m not used to being a loner. I’m known for it. But being alone, without any family to anchor me, makes me feel truly lost.
Alberta Grant wasn’t the nicest person in the world, but she was my rock. She lived to be ninety, and from what I’ve heard around town, spent at least forty of those years being a cantankerous old broad, who was both feared and admired.
I seem to be following in her footsteps. Except for the ad-mired part. People in Old Town say I’m freak and a bitch and tend to steer clear.
And I’m okay with that.
When I find my grandmother’s headstone I clear away the leaves that have fallen on it.
“How did she die?” Max asks. His tone is actually sincere. He’s finally dropped the overdone surfer-boy salesman act.
“She was old. Ninety.”
He nods. “Do you miss her?”
“More than I ever thought I would.”
He’s actually quiet as he stands there with me. He’s slightly attractive when he’s not talking. It’s when he opens his pie hole that he’s a complete turn off.
As we drive back toward the antique shop I have a brief moment of panic when Max passes right by it.
“You missed my stop.”
“I know,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Let me out. Now.” I can feel my pulse start to race. I briefly consider jumping out of the car, but I’m not wearing my leather today so the pavement would definitely hurt as I slid across it.
“It’s okay.” When Max glances over at me, I can see concern in his eyes. “I’m just going to take you to lunch. My treat.”
I take in a deep breath and try to calm my frayed nerves. “Lunch?”
“You put an OUT TO LUNCH sign on your door,” he reminds me. “So I’m taking you to lunch.”
“You’ll do anything for a date, won’t you?”
“So you’re actually going on a date with me?” He grins. “And here I thought you were a tough girl.”
I huff. “Do I have a choice? You kind of have me trapped in your clown car.”
When he glances over at me his eyes have turned serious. “You always have a choice. Don’t ever forget that.”
I nod, but we’re both quiet as we head back into the center of Old Town.
If only all guys thought the way he does, my life wouldn’t be a complete and total mess.