“Brooks, quit messing around,” my little brother whined from behind me. “I’m out of coffee, and I need to pee.”
“We wouldn’t have to stop for as many bathroom breaks if you’d slow down on the coffee, Rory,” Thad said. “I think we should make you start carrying around a piss bottle.”
“Ew. I will not. That’s disgusting.”
I let their argument fade into the background as I concentrated on Miss Daisy Dreamcloud. I didn’t want to be in the van longer than necessary anymore than anyone else did, but the ol’ girl had been acting up since an hour after we’d left home. The next location the guys wanted to inspect for RIPP happened to be four hours away, and I’d had to work today, so we’d left immediately after I got home. We should have been able to make it to our destination around nine thirty pm, which felt late after the day I’d had, but the haunting we were following up on always happened at eleven pm on Friday nights according to eyewitnesses.
Feeling a slight pressure on my thigh, I glanced down to see Dane’s hand. “She’s really giving you trouble, isn’t she?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah,” I whispered back. “Anytime I hit forty-five miles per hour, she starts to shake. I’m not sure what’s going on, but at this rate, you guys won’t have time to set up, and I’m worried about her not making it for the drive home.”
He patted my leg, then turned back toward the two idiots, who’d moved to discussing the various kinds of containers that could be utilized to relieve themselves so we wouldn’t have to stop for bathroom breaks. Ugh. Like not consuming enough liquid for five people every hour wasn’t a good enough solution. “Alright, I think we should pull off the highway the next time we see a sign for a gas station,” my super-supportive boyfriend said.
“Seriously?” Rory whined.
“You did say you have to pee,” Dane pointed out reasonably.
“Yeah, but I at least wanted to make it closer to the site. We’re never going to be set up in time.”
Right as my brother finished speaking, Miss Daisy Dreamcloud sputtered, and no matter how hard I pushed on the gas, the old girl slowed down. Thankful that I could at least still steer, I aimed for the side of the road and had just pulled off the main street as she came to a shuddering stop. “Well, fuck,” I mumbled, more to myself than anyone else in the van. My limbs were heavy with exhaustion, and what had started out as a long day had just become neverending.
“Well, this isn’t good,” said Thad.
Understatement. We were on a backroad of nowhere America after having left the main highway ages ago. It was total darkness beyond where the headlights shone. I sighed. “I guess we’ll have to call for a tow.”
“Let’s check the engine first. Maybe it’s something we can fix ourselves and get back on the road.” Rory opened the van door and hopped out.
“Uh, does he know anything about working on cars?” Dane asked me with a raised brow.
Thad laughed. “No, but I bet he expects his big brother to figure it out and save the day like he always does.” He clasped my shoulder and got out, too.
Leaning over, I gave Dane a quick kiss. “Come on. Let’s just take a peek to shut him up, and then we’ll call roadside assistance.”
Dane chuckled, rolled his eyes, but got out of the van, too.
By the time I walked around to the back of the van, Rory and Thad were grabbing out cameras and they had a lantern sitting on the ground between them. “What’s going on?” I asked, completely confused.
Rory pointed out into the darkness. “There’s a graveyard over there. We’re going to check it out while you fix my girl.” He swung a flashlight out into the darkness, and sure enough, in the distance, there was a small grouping of headstones.
“Rory, for goodness sake, just stay here.”
Dane sidled up next to me and wrapped his arm around my waist. “No, I think it’s a good idea. It’s not like the four of us crammed around the engine is going to help. Let them go search, and we’ll stay here and…”
I chuckled when he trailed off. Stay here and what? That was the question. “Sure, whatever. You do whatever you want.”
Ignoring Rory and Thad, I opened the hatch to the engine, while Dane whispered in my ear, “We’ll stare at it for five or ten minutes, and then we can call for a tow, okay?”
I sighed as I stared at… an engine. Hell if I knew what was wrong with it. Small gadgets, cameras, and anything else I could sit at the kitchen table and search Google for help fixing was one thing. Automotive repair was something else altogether. “Yeah, that sounds like the best option.”
The feel of Dane pressing his body closer to mine distracted me from my irritation, and I slipped my arm around his waist, turning my head to gaze down at him.
His eyelashes fluttered over his pretty green orbs. “We haven’t had any alone time today, so this might be the perfect time”—he tilted his head back, moving in closer—“for a little kiss,” he whispered against my lips right before I caught them with mine.
My horrific workday, the frustration of Miss Daisy Dreamcloud breaking down, and the worry for what that meant all faded away at the first touch of his pillowy smooth—
As I jerked my head up, Dane yelped, and I hooked my arm around his waist, pushing him behind me to protect him from whatever fresh hell we’d stumbled into now.
My brother stood there cackling, bent over at the waist, pointing at me. “I told you, Thad.”
His best friend shook his head, eyeing me with disappointment. “Seriously, Brooks? I bet him lunch tomorrow that there was no way he could scare you. We literally just walked away. We didn’t even start toward the tombstones yet.”
Rory was still huffing with laughter as my boyfriend—damn, did I love calling him that—wrapped his arms around my middle from behind, resting his chin against my biceps so only enough of his face was visible for Rory to see him glaring. “For fuck’s sake. I talk your brother into letting you go on an impromptu ghost hunt and this is how you repay me?”
Now Thad started chuckling. “Riiight? You were being totally selfless, Dane. Sending us off didn’t have anything to do with wanting to lock lips with Brooks.”
Shaking my head at all of them, I threw my arms into the air in defeat. “Godzilla, you take your little sidekick and go play with dead people. I will resist my boyfriend’s wiles and attempt to figure out what’s wrong with Miss Daisy.”
“Really?” Thad and Dane asked me at the same time, the first sounding skeptical and the latter indignant.
“Really,” I said firmly. I gestured in the direction of the tombstones with my head, and the two idiots took the hint and started that direction.
Dane’s hands slipped underneath my shirt and caressed my stomach. “They’re gone now,” he sing-songed.
Fighting the ripple of desire that shot up my spine at his touch, I turned my head enough to kiss his forehead before I stepped back toward the van to stare down at the engine. “As much as I’d like to press you against the side of the van and have my way with you, we’re out in the middle of nowhere, so who knows how long it’ll take for a tow. Let’s get this done, and then we’ll go find a motel and get a room. Our own room.” I looked over at him and waggled my brows.
Dane’s hand shot into his pocket, and he pulled out his cell phone. “In that case, let’s get on calling—”
“Shit. Brooks, Dane. Holy shit.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck. I didn’t bring out any salt.”
“I didn’t either. I didn’t really expect—Brooks!”
I huffed, ignoring Thad and Rory’s dramatics as they yelled from the small graveyard. “How many times do they think they can fool me in one night? Ugh,” I complained to Dane.
“They really are ridiculous sometimes,” I agreed.
“Only sometimes?” Brooks asked, lifting his brow and making me snort.
Ignoring Thad and Rory yelling in the background, I went back to trying to find a number to call. I didn’t have great service out here, so my search was slow-going. I gestured to the engine as I waited for the page to load. “Do you seriously think you’re going to be able to do anything with that thing?”
My boyfriend sighed and pushed his glasses on top of his head to pinch the bridge of his nose. “No, not really. But I can try, I guess.”
Shaking my head, I leaned in to kiss his cheek. “You don’t have to fix everything, all the time, you know.”
He shot me a soft grin, wrapped his arm around me, and yanked me close to press a soft kiss to my lips before he stepped away and bent over to stare at the engine again.
Unashamedly, I leaned back to stare at his ass, and when he glanced over his shoulder at me, I shrugged. “You have a nice butt, and I’d rather look at it than at the stupid engine.”
“Oh my god!” Rory yelled, his voice closer to us. All things considered, he was doing a pretty good impression of his actual I’m-getting-worried yell, although he hadn’t quite gotten the I’m-panicking-please-save-me yell down, if that was what he was going for tonight. “Are you guys seriously not going to help us?”
Turning, I watched in amusement as Rory and Thad came barreling out of the cemetery.
“Brooks! Dane! Get the Ghost-Be-Gone! Hurry!” Thad shouted.
I turned to him and loudly said, “Really, Thad? You too?”
He yelled back, “I’m being serious, Dane.”
I glanced behind them just in case there really was a ghost chasing them, then rolled my eyes and said, “Well, I don’t see anything.”
“We’re not joking anymore,” Thad said in a huff before he reached me, gently pushed me aside, and nudged Brooks out of the way to dig through the bags in the back of Miss Daisy.
I lifted a brow at Brooks when he straightened, and he shrugged in response. Rory stopped beside us, checked behind himself, then bent over to catch his breath, saying, “I… can’t… believe… you guys… didn’t come.”
“You just scared us, like five minutes ago,” I said. “You really think you can pull it off twice in a row?”
Rory stood up, pointed at me, then made a weird squeaking sound before he grabbed my wrist and yanked me toward him.
“What the hell, Ror—”
“Ghost,” he hissed and gestured to where I’d been standing a second ago… where nothing spectral or otherwise was now.
“There’s nothing there,” I said.
Brooks pulled me over to him, wrapping his arm over my shoulders. “Not gonna work, squirt.”
“But…” Rory trailed off with a sigh. “Whatever. Thad, you got the Ghost-Be-Gone yet?”
“One sec,” Thad answered, then stood and handed Rory a squirt gun filled with our homemade ghost repellent. When he handed one to Brooks and one to me, we both took them—it was easier than arguing with him. Thad held up a fanny pack that was filled with everything he’d need to vanquish a ghost and said, “Let’s go do this, Ror.”
Rory squared his shoulders, nodded, and the two of them headed back toward the cemetery, saying, “Don’t worry, guys, we got this.”
“So… do you still think they’re bullshitting us?” I asked once they were out of ear shot.
Brooks sighed. “I thought so, but this is kind of elaborate, even for them.”
I cut myself off when all the lights on Miss Daisy Dreamcloud started flashing and the doors started opening and shutting on their own. Chills ran down my spine because I still couldn’t see anything, but I could feel a presence with us.
There really was a ghost out here.
The lights started flickering faster. That couldn’t be good.
A strangled noise came out of my mouth when the rear door started swinging shut. Brooks jumped in its way, grunting at the impact of it hitting him. I almost yelled at him, but then I realized why he was trying to get into the trunk.
Another fanny pack was sitting right on the edge.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
I leapt forward while Brooks fought with the door that was still trying to slam shut. As soon as I swiped up the fanny pack, I grabbed my boyfriend and pulled him away, and the door slammed shut a moment later.
We started backing away from Miss Daisy, not willing to take our eyes off the vehicle. The lights were still going nuts, the doors were still swinging open and closed, and the entire van was shaking like someone was jumping on it. Was this just one ghost, or was there more than one? Could one ghost manipulate that many things at once?
Oh crap, what if it’s a whole cemetery’s worth of ghosts?
More chills ran down my spine at the thought.
I bumped into something solid and screamed in terror, but the thing I’d bumped into screamed, too. I whipped around as fast as I could and let loose with my squirt gun full of Ghost-Be-Gone, and didn’t stop, even when I saw what I was squirting.
“Dane! Dane!” Rory yelled and sputtered, water dripping from his face. “It’s me!”
Thad and Brooks were laughing, and I stopped squirting Rory and shot him a grin. “I know, but you deserved it.”
Rory glared at me, but couldn’t hold the expression before he laughed and punched my shoulder. As he wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his hoodie, he said, “So we can’t find the ghost now.”
From beside me, Brooks said, “Uh, that’s ‘cause it decided to terrorize us instead.” He pointed at Miss Daisy.
Rory stopped wiping off his face and squinted at the still-shaking van. “Oh no! Not Miss Daisy Dreamcloud! You can’t have her!” He let out a war cry, pumped his squirt gun up in the air, and ran toward the van.
Thad snorted out a laugh and ran after him.
Brooks sighed, and we trailed behind them but stopped a few feet away so we could watch Rory screaming and squirting the invisible ghost. Even though I was freaked out that we couldn’t see this ghost right now, I couldn’t help but laugh when Thad jumped in and started yelling and squirting the van along with him. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they’d lost their minds.
I wished I had one of the cameras out here so I could record them and use the footage for blackmail. It would’ve been so handy to use whenever Rory was trying to eat the last slice of pizza or when Thad forgot to take his laundry out of the drier. Too bad I wasn’t crazy enough to jump inside that van and grab a camera right now.
“Since those two bozos aren’t actually doing anything helpful, want to set up a circle here?” Brooks asked, gesturing to the ground around us.
“Sure. Let’s vanquish this thing. I don’t like that we can’t see it. It makes me think of when we couldn’t see the murderer-ghost on the platform.”
I saw Brooks visibly shiver. “I don’t like it, either.”
“Maybe it’s different this time. Maybe it’s using too much of its energy to manipulate the van, so it doesn’t have enough left to make itself visible.”
Brooks nodded as he drew a circle with his salt. “That’s a good theory. When the two of them calm their butts down, we’ll have to run it by them.” He closed off the circle with the two of us inside, so we sat down, facing each other and started getting everything ready.
With the sage burning and purifying the space within the circle, we started reciting the incantation together. All four of us had it memorized at this point after using it so often.
“Restless spirits, hear our call. Your time on this earth has come to an end. Let peace call to you, let tranquility fill your soul, let the light carry you home, and be at rest.”
We repeated it several times before the lights stopped flashing, the doors stilled, and the air shimmered between our salt circle and Miss Daisy.
We repeated it again, and the shimmery air started to glow until the shape of an iridescent person appeared there. The sound of a joyful laugh reached my ears, making goosebumps appear on my skin, and for just a moment, I saw the ghost clearly. He was young, like maybe sixteen-ish, with messy hair and wearing a leather jacket. And he was smiling widely as if he was happy we were helping him, but that was all I could really take in before he became too bright to stare at.
Brooks and I said the incantation one more time before the brightness faded and a strange sense washed over me. It was the same every time a spirit moved on; as if my body could feel the moment they were gone and the other-ness a ghost emanated had disappeared.
I sent Brooks a smile that he returned, and I said in awe, “He was happy.”
Brooks met my eyes and nodded. “He was. I’m glad we were able to help him.”
I jumped in fright, my heart pounding and feeling like it was going to come out of my chest as I twisted around and found Rory and Thad standing over us and cracking up.
Through his laughter, Rory breathed out, “Sorry… couldn’t… help myself.”
I picked up my squirt gun, aimed it up at Rory’s face, and pulled the trigger. He spluttered, and when he stopped, I pumped the squirt gun and squirted him again.
Thad continued laughing, and I heard Brooks chuckling as well.
Rory wiped his face, met my eyes, and lifted a shoulder, saying, “Okay, I totally deserved that one.”
That made me laugh.
Rory winked and patted me on the top of my head.
Brooks scooted over to sit behind me, sliding his arms around my middle, and asked Rory, “You ready to let us call for a tow now?”
Rory waved him away. “Yeah, yeah. Do whatever you need to do.”
Thad winked at us, then grabbed Rory’s arm and started dragging him back toward the cemetery. “Come on. We can keep looking around while we wait.”
“Are you seriously going to disturb more spirits right now?” I asked incredulously.
Thad shrugged. “What else are we gonna do? And if we do wake another spirit, we’ll help them cross over. We’re being helpful.” The two of them walked back to the cemetery.
With a groan, I leaned back against my boyfriend, and he tightened his hold on me. We stayed that way for a few minutes before I said, “It’s gonna be a really long night.”
From the cemetery, Thad let out a surprised yell followed by Rory cursing loudly.
Brooks huffed. “Yeah, it really is. All I want to do is go to bed. I’m exhausted.”
“Do you want to nap in the van while they’re off bothering the local ghost community?”
He kissed my cheek. “Nah. I’ll be alright. Plus, with how loud they are, I don’t think I could sleep, anyway.”
I snorted. “Good point.”
Brooks nuzzled into my neck and kissed the skin there. “Want to go out for lunch with me tomorrow? I don’t know if we’ll still be around here or back at home, but either way, I’d like to take you out before we do RIPP stuff tomorrow night.”
I tilted my head to the side to allow more access. “Are you asking me on a date?”
“I am.” He kissed my neck again.
I hummed. “I’d love to.”
“Good.” Another kiss. He pulled my collar to the side and started placing open-mouthed kisses there while his other hand reached under my shirt to rub along my stomach, inching closer to my nipple. My cock twitched before he could even get that far.
With a groan, I mumbled, “You better stop or I’ll have to strip you right here.”
“Don’t think the guys would appreciate that.” Brooks snorted, kissed my neck again, then rested his forehead there instead. He kept his hand under my shirt, but he rested it against my stomach, no longer inching up. I wished we were somewhere private already.
I sighed. “We just have to wait until we get to the hotel… whenever and wherever that may be.”
Rory yelled something that sounded like. “At least they can’t get in our circle.” The only reason we weren’t running to help them yet was because he was still using his calm-yelling-in-excitement voice, and not his oh-crap-I’m-in-huge-trouble-and-there’s-a-scary-ghost-trying-to-eat-me yelling voice. And yes, I knew the difference.
I said, “Ugh. Okay, let’s call the tow—finally—and then go save your crazy little brothers… again.”
Brooks chuckled, kissed my cheek, and helped me off the ground. As Brooks made the call, we got more supplies out of Miss Daisy Dreamcloud. Once she was shut tight and the tow was on its way—in two hours, anyway—we heard Thad and Rory shouting yet again.
Brooks shook his head. “It’s going to be a really, really long night.”
I snorted and couldn’t agree more. At least I got to spend it with my boyfriend and the little family we were a part of, though.
“How many ghosts could there possibly be here? That had to be the last one, right? No way are there more.” Rory’s voice said loudly.
Brooks’ wide eyes met my own, and he whispered, “He jinxed us.”
I nodded in agreement before the two of us took off at a jog to go save the two dorks that thought traipsing around in a graveyard was the best idea for a fun Friday night.
“How am I friends with these people again?” I asked.
Brooks snorted out a laugh and gestured to my chest without breaking stride.
I glanced down at the body camera I’d put on without even thinking about it. Huh. Guess I really am one of them now, aren’t I?