Fire and Ice Young Adult and New Adult Books

The Savannah Shadows #2

A Strange There After

by Missy Fleming



"A Strange There After" by Missy Fleming Ghosts exist. Quinn Roberts knows this because she is one - kind of. The spirit of a dysfunctional ancestor, Catherine, has evicted Quinn from her own body, forcing her to live in a world with the paranormal. No one can see, touch or hear her, except the ghosts she grew up with and the bane of her existence, a self-centered paranormal investigator named Boone.

Forced to watch the growing bond between her boyfriend, Jason, and the body snatcher, Catherine, Quinn delves deeper into the history of her family in search of a way to reverse what's been done. What she finds is a dangerous entity more terrifying than anything she's encountered before. He's willing to grant all her desires...for a price.

As Quinn faces painful decisions and makes unlikely alliances, she learns how far she will go to get her life back. Desperation is a wicked thing and she soon realizes that recovering her body may only be the beginning of her end.


 

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Paranormal Suspense
Romance
Thriller
Modern Fairy Tale
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Teens


Chapter One

 

Nightmares proved to be my new companion. They stalked at my heels, even in the light of day, dragging me into a never-ending abyss of uncertainty. They tried to teach me about what I lost, but I failed to put the puzzle together. Pieces lay within my reach, and each time I came close to seeing the whole picture, terror ran its icy fingers down my spine. Fear took hold, a grip so fierce I questioned whether I would ever find my way out. Every day, I struggled to shake off the cloud of confusion hanging over me.

Even as I gazed over at the attic window, a terrible dream danced along the edges of my consciousness, too far out of reach to recall. A bluebird flitted under the eave, on the other side of the glass, distracting me and pulling a smile from my lips. The beautiful morning stretched across the treetops, coloring the world golden, and the sight chased away any lingering memory of my haunting dreams.

Sunlight streamed in through the opposite window, illuminating my sparse accommodations. Stretching, and drawing in a deep breath, I sat up, eager to start the day, and cringed as the room spun. Once I steadied myself, I pushed to my feet and padded toward the door. Glancing down, I frowned. Must have fallen asleep in my clothes again. The jeans and tank top were incredibly wrinkled.

“Nice, Quinn,” I muttered.

At the bottom of the stairs leading up to my room, I stopped to listen. Nothing moved, and the lack of sound gave the second floor an empty feeling. Passing a vacant bedroom, which used to belong to my stepsister, Anna, I tried to remember when she and Suzie and Marietta moved out. They had, hadn’t they? Sleeping in the attic was obviously a hard habit to break. I needed to work on it.

As I descended the main staircase, I shook out my long hair and gathered it into a ponytail. Stifling a yawn, I veered straight for the kitchen, on a mission to get some much needed caffeine. When I reached my destination, the sight of Jason Parker, in faded jeans and a fitted T-shirt, cleared my fogginess. He had swept me off my reluctant feet three months ago, and it didn’t matter that he was twenty-one, three years older than me, or that he lived in California. Jason had helped me open up in a way I never allowed myself before. A flutter of affection beat its wings in my stomach. He set a box of donuts and to-go tray of coffee on the counter. The scent of mocha and sugar drifted over, and my mouth started watering.

“Oh, Lord, it smells delicious,” I said, loving how the sun shone through the wide window of the dining nook and highlighted his dark hair. He busied himself with pulling out plates and humming, the movements causing the muscles in his back to flex. I moved closer, intending to run my hand over his shoulders, to feel his strength, but he rounded the counter.

“Jason?”

He didn’t answer me, just sat down on the stool and grabbed some napkins from a nearby wire basket. 

“If Mr. Movie Star doesn’t want an elephant for a girlfriend, you need to stop bringing me treats.”

My joke fell flat. It didn’t even garner a reaction from him, not so much as a raise of a brow or twitch on his lips. Positive he must not have heard me, I closed the distance between us and tried again.

“Did you have a shoot last night?”

He filmed mostly at night, the lead in a vampire movie based on some popular book series. The locations usually attracted a slew of giggling girls, creating chaos and hysteria as they all strained to catch sight of Jason.

My question went unanswered, but a smile teased his lips when he opened the box of donuts and pulled out a maple bar covered in sprinkles. He must have remembered they were my favorite.

“How many did you get me?” I asked, reaching out to tip the lid of the box up.

A gust of wind swirling through the kitchen stopped me. It ruffled my hair and drove a dreadful chill right through to my bones. The back door was shut, the windows closed, but I felt the need to wrap my arms protectively around myself. Panic fluttered in my chest, and I fought against the lump forming in my throat. Not even Jason’s presence comforted me.

From the corner of my eyes a shadow startled me, and I whirled around. She strolled into the kitchen, stealing my breath, her long black and purple hair shimmering in the morning light. Her brown eyes widened in happiness when she caught sight of Jason, her lips parting in surprise.

“I didn’t know you were coming over. Am I going to regret giving you a key?” she teased. “Breakfast smells yummy,”

This time, Jason responded. He walked over and caught her in a fierce embrace, lifting her off the ground. She giggled in response. My stomach quivered as I watched him press his lips to hers. To mine. Except I was standing there unnoticed, completely unseen. My world came crashing down around me.

 I remembered everything in broken, painful fragments. My stepmother and sister’s endless taunts. Meeting Jason and opening up to him. The graveyard and trying to rid my stepmother Marietta of the shadow attached to her. Catherine somehow pushing me out of my body. Looking in the window, watching Jason kiss her as I stood alone and cold.

For some reason, I occasionally woke up and forgot I was a ghost. Obviously, I needed to write it on a sticky note and tape it to my forehead. The only issue being I didn’t have a clue what I really was. Amidst the pain rolling through me a single detail rooted me to the moment. My heartbeat was gone, my chest motionless. I called myself a ghost, but I hadn’t died. My body wasn’t buried or burned. It lived. I was staring right at it as Jason pressed his mouth to hers. My own tingled in reaction, and, with trembling fingers, I caressed my lips. He gently tugged on her hair, and my scalp pricked.

I experienced a milder sensation of everything he did to her. My stomach rolled in disgust.

Catherine. Somehow the wench forced me out of my own body.

“What’s going on?” I demanded. 

Neither of them reacted to the sound of my voice.

Finally, the kissing stopped, but the warmth lingered on my lips, in my chest. She didn’t only return the action. She enjoyed it. I knew because I felt the rush of her affection course through me, flushing my skin and making my blood hum. I remembered the feeling. It was identical to what I experienced when he used to embrace me, when he stared at me with those captivating eyes.

My rage replaced her lust-filled reaction. I advanced on them as Jason leaned against the counter, settling Catherine between his legs and brushing hair from her face. Jealousy blossomed in my chest. This wasn’t normal heartbreak. A lance pierced my heart, stealing my breath and hollowing me to the core.

“That. Is. Not. Me,” I shouted.

The smile on my face wasn’t mine. It was Catherine’s, full of easygoing confidence. As I studied them, I had to admit they looked good together, a picture of youthful perfection. His dark hair and gorgeous brown eyes matched her black, wavy tresses and happy smile.

She stole my life.

Moping like a lovesick fool wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I had to fight. My entire life I’d been aware of the presence of ghosts. I felt their pain. What I didn’t understand was why they clung to their wrongs and stayed behind. Even Catherine let the hatred twist her. It changed her into a woman hell bent on revenge for a hundred and fifty year old misdeed. I understood all too well now. The pain never left. Time didn’t exist. Wounds remained fresh.

Briefly meeting my tortured gaze, Catherine put on a show for me, giggling and kissing Jason more passionately than necessary this early in the morning. My eyes narrowed into angry slits as I fought the spirit world calling out to me. I refused to let the fog back in, to cloud the truth and numb my pain.

Oblivious to my torment, Jason brushed his thumb across her lips. “I can’t stay long. Gonna get some sleep before I have to be back on set. I’ll make sure to reserve a few hours for you later though.”

“Can’t wait. This house ain’t the same without you.”

She sounded nervous, awkward, how I usually did, and I gave her credit for how well she played me. Her grandest role yet.

“It must be hard being here alone.” He laced his fingers behind her, settling them in the small of her back. “Have you heard anything about Marietta?”

I perked up at the mention of my stepmother.

“Not really, not since they settled in Atlanta. I imagine Anna is worried about helping her mama get better, not keeping in touch.”

My goal in the graveyard had been to save Marietta from the devious spirit controlling her. We had no idea what the ghost of my ancestor, Catherine Roberts, really planned. For months, she threatened me, saying when I was gone she’d have everything she desired. I realized too late she didn’t want me dead. She merely wanted my body.

“It was pretty amazing of you to pay for her care.”

I gaped at that tidbit. It was the last thing I expected Catherine to do. Clever move on her part, convincing everyone she had a heart.

She shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed. “Regardless of what she’s done, she’s family.”

“I hope Marietta recovers. Her mental state was pretty dismal last I saw her.” He frowned. “Catherine really did a number on her.”

I caught the way her face hardened, and her response came out brisk. “She’ll be fine. Being away from Savannah has probably done wonders. I’ll call them later today.” Jason didn’t seem to recognize the lie. “And you’re right. It’s taking a while to get used to having the house to myself. All those times I wished for it, and now, two weeks have passed, and the size intimidates me.”

She sighed sadly. I almost believed her. The kitchen tilted underneath me as I realized she was better at being me than I had ever been. The traitorous notion pulled a fresh well of frustration from me. I struggled to wrestle it under control as Jason left. Once the front door closed, Catherine spun, pinning me with a pitying look.

“It’s no use. He can’t hear you.”

Habit tempted me to recoil from her, but I stood my ground, surprising both of us. “He’ll realize you’re not me. You’re different.”

“Apparently, he doesn’t think I’m different in a bad way. I’ve had years to watch, Quinn. It’s easy to play you.” She leaned closer. “He deserves someone who can fit into his world.”

“Why him?”

She adapted a dreamy expression. “He’s important, powerful. Jason knows all the right people. On his arm, I’m the belle of the ball again, which is all I’ve ever wanted.”

 “How did you do it? The night in the cemetery? I felt my soul being ripped from my body!” I clenched my fists. “Give me back my life.”

“No. I enjoy your life.” She pivoted on her bare feet and sauntered out of the kitchen, leaving me with a whirlwind of emotions. I yearned to hurt her, but so far, I hadn’t figured out how to touch anything without my hand passing through it.

Catherine paused in the doorway, intent on getting in one last pithy comment. “It’s kind of ironic, actually. You spent all your time obsessing over ghosts. Now, you are one, and all your silly little questions can be answered.”

An idea rose up out of the smoldering embers of my hatred. Catherine was right about one thing, all my questions could be answered. I set out in search of the other ghosts haunting my house, determined to find out how to return to the land of the living.