Whispering Hearts is launching tomorrow! I’m really excited for this one (in case you couldn’t tell). Last week, I posted a short piece from Garrett’s perspective of when he and Rachel first met. Here’s the same event from her point of view.
This happened several years before the events of Wandering Soul and Whispering Hearts. As I mentioned with the first piece, I was sure to keep these tame, but the book itself is sizzling hot. You have been warned!
All Hallow’s Eve…
Copyright © 2015 Cassandra Chandler
Summer Park, Florida —Several Years Ago
Rachel was surrounded by monsters. Everywhere she looked, she saw vampires, zombies, werewolves, and…ghosts. Her face hurt from the forced smile she was keeping firmly in place. Her eyes burned from tears she would not shed.
This was her party, after all.
The main ballroom of the Orange Grove Inn was fully decked out for Halloween. She had commissioned paper art in the form of witches on broomsticks, flying bats, and a giant illuminated full moon that hung from the ceiling. The landing that wrapped around the room giving it a second level had similar sculptures attached to the banisters so that it looked like the people dancing below were about to be pounced upon by various creatures.
Not only did it make the place look perfect for a Halloween costume party, she had supported half a dozen local artists, asking them to work together to turn the place into a sort of art gallery of its own. Which was fitting, since the party was being thrown by her boss—the owner of the Jazz Gallery. Rachel was proud of her accomplishment, even if she couldn’t relax enough to enjoy it.
A cool breeze caressed the back of her neck, sending goose-bumps down her arms. She knew what would come next—the echoing voices, impossible to tune out even with the music and conversation that surrounded her. Voices only she could hear.
”This one’s pretty. Look at that golden hair.”
Rachel felt a slight pull on her hair. Her stomach roiled. Someone was touching her. Someone dead.
She had almost grown accustomed to hearing them. Thankfully, touches were much less common. Thoughts raced through her brain. What should she do? If she didn’t react, that would be strange. If she over-reacted, that would be even worse. What would a normal person do? Someone who couldn’t hear them?
She decided to pretend that she had experienced it as an itch. As naturally as she could feign, she scratched the spot where her scalp had felt the tug on her hair.
“Her eyes are so blue. She looks like a doll.”
“Shall we play with her?”
Play… She wanted to scream and run away. But if she did, she would completely blow her cover. She couldn’t risk them realizing that she could perceive them. Once they knew, they would never leave her alone.
She should have worn a costume. She stood out, wearing a navy blue pantsuit. This was the first party that Jazz had given Rachel complete control over. It was her chance to prove herself. She didn’t want to blow it. She wanted to look professional, and honestly she couldn’t bring herself to dress up as something. She worked so hard to seem normal.
Rachel glanced around the room, looking for an escape. She remembered a set of double-doors on the second level that led to a small balcony. The main focus of the party was in the ballroom. Bored spirits would be attracted to people. They wouldn’t look for anyone out there. She just needed a few minutes to collect herself.
She wove among the people, smiling and saying a few words here and there, hoping the ghosts would get distracted and leave her alone. Finally emerging on the other side of the crowd, she walked up the stairs and made her way out onto the balcony. She walked to the railing and pressed her hands against the warm stone. The sun had only set a few hours ago and it still retained some heat from the Floridian afternoon.
Even in autumn, the air was muggy, but it wasn’t oppressively hot. She took a deep breath and let it out, staring up at the stars. She was alone. She was finally alone.
She didn’t want to be.
Why did it always have to be ghosts?
The door creaked open behind her. She pretended not to hear it.
If the ghosts had followed her, she was in trouble. Most would prefer the activity of the party rather than trying to entertain themselves by scaring one person. Even worse, if they were powerful enough to open the door, they would be able to do much more than tug on her hair. She should have brought along her perfume bottle that she’d filled with saltwater. Trying to find some salt nearby to disrupt them with would absolutely tip her hand.
“Oh, excuse me.”
Rachel didn’t turn around. The voice was deep, with a distinct Southern drawl. Plenty of ghosts in Florida had the same accent, but the speaker’s voice lacked the echoing quality of a spirit. Still, she was afraid to turn around. If she was wrong, she’d be letting him know she could hear him.
“I didn’t know anybody else was out here,” he said.
When she didn’t respond, he walked up next to her, letting her see him out of the corner of her eye. She could only see ghosts in reflections. He was alive.
“Ma’am? Are you all right?”
She let out a huge breath, then turned to greet him, her smile becoming a tiny bit less fake. Her words caught in her throat when she saw who it was.
Garrett. Dr. Garrett Wolfstrom.
She had never seen him from this close.
He was a few inches taller than she was, even in her heels. He had to be at least six and a half feet tall. His hair was brown, cut close on the sides with a little more length on top. He had styled it to spike up so it looked like he’d just woken up and rolled out of bed. His features were decidedly masculine, matching his enormous physique. His eyes were a deep, rich blue.
The only light on the balcony came from the double-doors that led back into the hotel, but she didn’t need more to know exactly what he looked like. She had studied him too many times at the various fundraisers they’d both attended—always from across the room. She never let him get too close. She hadn’t known why until this moment.
Her skin prickled. Her heart pounded. She felt a flush creep over her cheeks. The pull she felt toward him was incredible. She had already taken a step closer before she managed to stop herself.
She cleared her throat and said, “Hello.”
He looked confused for a moment, then said, “Hello, yourself.”
He smiled. She had never seen him smile like that—a real smile, if somewhat hesitant. Not one of the practiced smiles he used at public events. A faint hint of dimples formed on his cheeks.
“You’re Rachel Montgomery,” he said.
“Yes. That’s me.” She laughed, grinning like a kid and feeling like one. Her stomach kept lurching as if she was on a roller-coaster. It wasn’t too surprising that he knew her name, but she still found it ridiculously flattering.
“I’m Garrett Wolfstrom.”
“Right. Dr. Wolfstrom. It’s good to meet you.”
She extended her hand. It would be weird not to. They were really just meeting, after all, and it was only polite. It had nothing at all to do with the fact that she wanted to know if his hands were as strong as they looked, if his skin would be smooth or rough, warm or cool.
He had an open bottle of beer in his right hand. He switched it to his left and took her hand in his.
Her body lit up, fresh goosebumps spreading along her arms, across her back, and even down her legs. His hand was smooth and warm, his grip strong but surprisingly gentle. Then again, as a doctor, he would need a deft touch.
His lips parted. She noticed, because she was staring at them. She snapped her gaze to his, trying to focus on anything but the amazing energy arcing between them. That was a mistake. His eyes had softened and he was looking at her as if…
As if he felt it too.
She forced a laugh, pulling her hand away. Again, he looked confused.
Desperate to focus on something else, she tried to start a conversation. “I didn’t know you would be here.”
“Neither did I. There was a last minute shift change at the hospital.”
“I see. Are you enjoying the party?”
He shrugged and said, “Sure.”
“That’s not very convincing.”
“Sorry. I’ve reached my quota on socializing this week after that fundraising dinner that dragged on for five hours.”
Rachel laughed. “They really needed a better planner for that one.”
“Yeah. I just stepped out here to get some fresh air.”
“Well, you were here first. I don’t mean to trouble you.” He started to turn toward the door, but Rachel reached for his arm to halt him.
Where had that come from? She hadn’t been thinking, just…feeling. She wanted him to stay.
His smile slowly faded. Her mouth went dry as they stared into each other’s eyes.
She cleared her throat again, pulling her hand away. “It’s a big balcony. And there aren’t very many other places you can get away from the crowds and not outright leave the party. Unless you’re ready to go.”
She hoped he wasn’t.
“I was planning to stay for a little while. I haven’t checked in with Jazz yet, and I want her to see that I showed up.”
“She wasn’t expecting you.”
“She has a way of knowing what’s going on in town. She’d never let me hear the end of it if I bailed. I’m scared enough that I phoned in my costume.”
Rachel took in his outfit. It was a stylish suit and tie, maybe a step down from the formal attire she usually saw him in, but still very nice.
“I hesitate to guess what you’re supposed to be,” she said.
“I had no idea werewolves had such good senses of fashion.”
He straightened his tie and grinned. “Not all do.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Did you spend the whole day shaving for this event? Filing down your fangs and claws?”
“Didn’t have to.” He gave her a cock-eyed smile, one of the dimples deepening on his cheek. “It’s not a full moon.”
She laughed. Long and hard. She couldn’t stop herself.
When she finally recovered, she said, “That’s very clever, Dr. Wolfstrom.”
His grin deepened. “That’s where I got the idea.”
He drank a sip of his beer and leaned against the railing. The bar wasn’t supposed to be giving out beer in bottles. Jazz wanted her events to be in keeping with a certain vibe. His beer did not match her requirements. Rachel started to wonder if there might be a problem she needed to address.
“I have to ask, where did you get that beer?”
“Swiped it from behind the bar while the bartender was restocking. They’re really partying hard in there.”
She relaxed a little bit. She should probably get back to the party, but she couldn’t bring herself to. Suddenly it wasn’t because she was avoiding the crowd. She just wanted more time with him.
“I noticed,” she said. “We’ve already had to send one reveler home in a cab.”
“I’m glad you’re taking care of people. We just dealt with a bad car accident in the ER.”
She was aware. Rachel had heard a woman’s disembodied voice while she was shopping with Jazz that day. The woman didn’t seem to realize she was dead yet. She kept asking people why they were ignoring her and saying she had hurried through her errand as fast as she could before coming back to work. It was heartbreaking.
Rachel had accidentally caught a glimpse of the woman in a mirror behind the cashier’s counter. It had taken all of her self-control not to react to the horrific sight. When she heard about the accident on the news later, she already knew people had died.
“You okay?” Garrett asked.
“What? Yeah.” Rachel shook her head and forced a laugh. “It’s just… Halloween is already creepy enough. I guess I don’t like thinking about that kind of thing.”
“I’ll let you in on a secret.” He leaned a little closer. “Neither do I.”
He didn’t laugh. Neither did she. She couldn’t imagine the kind of stress and pressure he dealt with at the ER.
He took another drink, then glanced around. Standing up straight, he said, “You don’t have a drink. Can I get you something?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” Rachel laughed again, but this time it was real. It felt good. “You don’t have to play the Southern Gentleman with me.”
“Fair enough. In that case, you don’t have to be a Southern Belle.”
“Oh thank God.” She dropped her proper posture and let herself lean against the rail in what she hoped was a comic slouch. Garrett’s laugh let her know she hit her mark.
She smiled and stood straighter again. “Actually, I think I’ve changed my mind.”
His smile faltered. She gestured to his beer.
“You don’t have to get me anything, but do you mind sharing?”
It only took a moment for his grin to return. He handed her the bottle. “Not a bit.”
She took a sip of the earthy brew—her first beer straight from a bottle. Her mother would be mortified. That only made it sweeter. She laughed as she handed it back to him. This was the closest she’d ever come to “meeting a guy under the bleachers”. She’d made it all the way through college without a bit of rebelling. It felt good.
Being with him felt…right. And that was even more terrifying than the ghosts back in the ballroom.
Rachel is dealing with a lot. These two, though… It was hard for them to keep their hands off each other throughout the whole book. I kept having to tone things down, and it still turned out super-hot!
In case you missed it and want to start at the beginning, the first book in The Summer Park Psychics series is Wandering Soul. And you can find Whispering Hearts in digital or print versions on my publisher’s web site (Samhain) and on Amazon. I’d love to hear your thoughts and see your reviews.
I hope your New Year is off to a good start 🙂