Killian Kendall is asked to prove a troubled teen innocent of murdering his abusive father.
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Killian Kendall's life is changing faster than he can keep up. He's graduating from high school, breaking up with his boyfriend, and starting a new job with a private investigator. He's barely settled at his new desk when his ex-boyfriend calls with a desperate plea for help. He wants Killian to prove his new boyfriend is innocent in the shockingly violent murder of his abusive father. Killian reluctantly agrees to take the case, little knowing how complicated -- and dangerous -- things will become before it's over.
On the home front, Killian's surrogate parents decide to buy a historic mansion and turn it into a bed and breakfast. The house comes with a rich history...and maybe a ghost or two. Killian doesn't want to believe in such things, but he's quickly becoming convinced that something terrible happened to the home's original owners. The century-old mystery both terrifies and tantalizes Killian. In the end, he may be the only one who can uncover the truth.
Finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award for Best Mystery.
I finally dozed off sometime after two a.m. but woke up with a jolt less than an hour later. At first I couldn't figure out what had awakened me. As far as I could remember, I hadn't been dreaming, and it was completely silent in the house. The only noise I could hear was Kane's deep, even breathing.
Becoming more alert, I slowly began to sense a presence in the room. The hairs on my arms stood up and a shiver ran down my spine. My first instinct was to duck under the covers and call for Adam, like a little kid who's just had a nightmare, until I realized I sensed no malice. I eased myself into a sitting position and gasped out loud.
Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor, centered perfectly in a beam of moonlight, was my former friend and Kane's brother, Seth. The white light gave him an eerie glow, making him look like a ghost. Then it occurred to me that, since Seth was dead, he probably was a ghost. I decided I had to be dreaming.
“Hey, Killer,” he said with his familiar grin. “Long time no see.”
He looked exactly as he had the last time I'd seen him alive - hair sticking up in every direction, jeans, and a fitted short-sleeved T-shirt. Even the impish expression on his adorable face was just the way I remembered it. An almost paralyzing ache spread through my body as I realized how much I missed him.
“You don't look any different,” I managed to say in a strangled voice.
He cocked his head to one side. “I wouldn't. You, on the other hand...You've grown up, Killian.”
He laughed. “In some ways, at least.”
“What do you mean?”
“You're not the same scared little boy I met on my first day at a new school. You're much stronger now. You've been through a lot and come out a better person because of it.”
“In what ways haven't I changed?”
“You're still fighting the real you.”
I frowned. “I came out. The whole school knows. Asher and I dated for half our junior year and almost the entire senior year.”
“That's not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
He shook his head and stood up. “That's not why I'm here.”
“Why are you here? Am I really even talking to you? This is all a dream, right?”
“It has to be a dream. I'm way too calm for it to be anything else. Besides, if it isn't a dream, that would make you a...”
“Ghost?” He strolled to the side of my bed and leaned in close. I didn't feel any warmth from his body, even though he was close enough that I should have if he had been real. I didn't even feel the touch of his breath on my cheek. “Boo!” I jumped and he laughed.
“Why are you here?” I asked him testily.
“I dunno. I just thought maybe you could use someone to talk to.” He sat on the edge of my bed.
“I have plenty of people to talk to without resorting to a dead guy. Oh my God! Maybe I'm going crazy!”
“Plenty of people, huh? Name one.”
“Adam, Steve, Kane...that's three.”
“And I guess you've been talking to them about Asher?”
“What about Asher?”
“You guys broke up, right? Have you talked to anyone about that?”
“Of course! Well, I mean...sort of.”
“Do you miss him?”
My breath caught in my throat. “Yeah.” My voice came out much hoarser than I'd expected.
“No one would know it by watching you.”
“How do you know?”
“I keep an eye on you.”
For some reason, I found that comforting. “So you crossed the void just to talk about my love life?”
“Crossed the void?” He smirked.
“Actually, no. There is something else I need to talk to you about, but we haven't finished talking about Asher yet.”
“Can't we just say we have?”
“Why don't you want to talk about him?”
I shrugged and looked away. Kane was still sleeping soundly, which supported my dream theory. Then again, Kane would sleep soundly through World War III, so maybe that wasn't the best way to judge this strange situation.
“Killian?” Seth prodded.
I sighed. “Maybe it hurts too much.”
“Do you still love him?”
I forced myself to look into Seth's bright green eyes. “Yes.”
“So why don't you talk to him anymore?”
“He doesn't talk to me, either. We stopped talking to each other long before we broke up.”
I slumped back against my pillows. “Hell if I know. It was just like...we drifted apart. Towards the end, all we did was fight. He didn't even tell me he'd decided to go away to college. And then there was Caleb...”
“What about Caleb?”
“Asher was spending so much time with him. All he ever talked about was Caleb this and Caleb that. Everyone thought Asher was cheating on me with Caleb.”
“Did you think he was?”
I shook my head and fought back tears. “I don't know. Were they?”
“Are you asking me?”
“You are the supernatural being here.”
“Doesn't mean I get to supply you with answers you have to figure out for yourself. Besides, how would I know? I'm not omniscient.”
“Yeah, well, I'm new at this whole `talking to ghosts' thing, so you'll have to forgive me if I don't know all the rules.”
“No prob. So, am I a dream or a ghost?”
“I haven't decided yet.”
He grinned. “Maybe I'm just your subconscious working out your issues.” I stuck my tongue out at him and he laughed. “Didn't your mother ever teach you not to stick your tongue out at your subconscious?”
I laughed. “No. I think she forgot that particular life lesson. What else did you want to talk to me about?”
Seth suddenly grew more serious. “It's still sort of connected to Asher, but not exactly.”
“I can't explain, but something is happening tonight, something that will affect you.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I didn't like the serious tone in Seth's voice. “Could you be a little more vague?”
“I'm sorry, Killian; I really am. I can't go into details, but you're going to have to be very careful.”
“I don't understand -”
“I don't expect you to. Just remember what I'm telling you. Be careful. Watch your step.”
“Will you stop speaking in riddles and just tell me whatever it is you're trying to tell me?”
Seth stood up abruptly. “If I could tell you, don't you think I would?”
“What do you mean?”
“You want easy answers, Killian. It doesn't work like that. You have to figure these things out on your own.”
“You sound like Judy.”
“Listen to her. She could be a great asset to you if you'd allow it.”
“Asset? What are you talking about? I'm so confused!”
Seth clenched his fists in frustration. “Maybe this was a mistake.”
“Maybe what was a mistake?”
“My coming here, talking to you. Maybe you're not ready. Maybe I'm not ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“Forget it. I shouldn't have come.” He turned his back to me and stepped away. I wasn't sure if it was just that he'd moved into shadow, but he suddenly seemed harder to distinguish, almost as if he were fading.
“Seth?” He looked back over his shoulder. “Was this just a dream? When I wake up, will I remember any of this?”
“I hope so, Kill. Pay attention to your dreams. They could mean the difference between life and death.”
His words were still hanging in the air as he vanished completely, leaving me wondering if I was losing my mind. Had I really been talking to Seth's spirit, or had I imagined the whole thing? Maybe I was still asleep and it was all some sort of bizarre dream.
That last explanation made the most sense, so I rolled over, pulled the blankets up around my chin, pushed all the confusing thoughts and images from my mind, and went back to sleep.
I felt strangely rested when I woke up the next morning, which only reinforced my idea that Seth's nocturnal visit had been a dream. Oddly enough, the dream was extremely vivid in my memory. I could recall every word we'd said, even the expressions on Seth's face. My heart ached at the thought of being with him again. I decided that seeing Judy, talking about Jake, and bringing up all those old memories had caused me to dream about Seth.
Seth's vague warnings and cryptic advice in my dream kept running through my head as I showered and dressed, ate breakfast, and drove to work. At the office, I mostly managed to put it all out of my mind as I immersed myself in paperwork, but every now and then, his face would float back into view and I'd feel a pang of loss.
Right before I was about to leave for my lunch break, the phone rang. I scooped it up and answered with my usual, “Novak Investigations. How may I help you?”
I would have recognized that voice anywhere, even with the note of panic it carried. My heart skipped a beat. I could tell something was wrong. “Asher?”
“I need your help.”
My heart was now pounding in my chest. “What's wrong?”
“There's been a murder.”