Keegan Belcastro has always loved a mystery, even when it got her into trouble. When research for a school paper leads her to a haunted mansion full of desperate phantoms, learning who they are and how they came to be trapped there evolves into a quest for their freedom.
Shane Bitrec has been Keegan’s next-door neighbor and best friend for most of her life. High school graduation is going to mean big changes that she’s been trying to prepare for all year. But drifting away hasn’t been as easy as she thought, and when Shane gets involved in her quest, it disrupts more than just her independence. Confrontation gives rise to unprecedented feelings that threaten everything they’ve meant, or could mean, to each other.
When transitioning the spirits to the afterlife proves more dangerous than Keegan expected, Shane’s constant presence becomes both a vital tool and an emotional minefield. Investigating the mansion’s darkly complicated history leads to Keegan becoming tied to the energy of the house and its phantoms. Their desperation threatens her life, and only Shane can protect her. But who will protect him?
The property sloped toward the back of the house, and latticework covered the foundation, hiding the door Keegan had found the first time she came to Orchid Manor. There was no way she should have been able to find it. She hadn’t even been looking for a way in, just circling the abandoned house to study the architecture while she thought about points for her school paper. Something whispered in her head to pry at one spot. There were concealed hinges in the lattice, and when she worked the old wood out from the tangle of wild strawberry far enough to see behind it, there was a carved wooden door, grime making the orchid in the center of it hard to decipher. The knob turned easily for something that had obviously not been opened in a long time, and she hadn’t been able to stop herself from going in.
That knob was stiffer now, metal grinding and swollen wood protesting as she slammed her shoulder against it to get it open. But the front door was deadbolted and the back entrance inaccessible, so this was her only way in. She stepped into the dim chamber and shoved the door back in place before pausing to get her phone out of her thigh pocket. The flashlight illuminated the empty, tiled space that could barely be called a room, and she picked her way across the chipped floor to the open arch on the other side. From there, it was an easy run up two flights of stairs to a plain hallway that formed a T with a wider, grander central hall. She didn’t pause but went straight through and turned right, into The Room.
They were all there, waiting for her, smiling.
“Good morning!” she called, scanning them to see who would respond. Usually only one or two did, and the others acted like she wasn’t there, drifting around in faint, faded outlines of their original selves. Today half of them had normal color—so much she could barely see through them. But one was downright glowing.
Adame. She was so bright for someone so small. Keegan looked around herself, making sure no one had drifted close enough to be stepped through, and moved to Adame’s side.
“I have something for you,” she told the young girl.
“You found it?” Her voice shook, vibrated across Keegan’s skin, before her brain translated the waves into words.
“I did!” She slipped the small item from her other thigh pocket, wrapped in a lace-edged handkerchief that had been her great-grandmother’s. It seemed way more suitable for the occasion than a bandanna or rag.
But Adame’s eyes were locked on Keegan’s, deep brown pools full of a sorrow she hadn’t expected.
“Oh.” It came out a whisper, and she understood. “No, Ad, I didn’t see him. I went when no one else was there.”
The girl sank low, arms wrapping around herself. She couldn’t cry, but Keegan sensed her sobs. She held out her arms, wanting to comfort Adame, but she didn’t come closer. She seemed beyond comfort, beyond hope—beyond saving?
For a second, Keegan almost bolted. This was too much. What if she couldn’t help like she wanted to…ever? She had to leave. The responsibility was too much for a seventeen-year-old kid who hadn’t even gotten her driver’s license yet.
But she didn’t go. Even as her mind and the blood rushing through her body urged her out, something stronger kept her in place. The item in her hand seemed to chill her skin through the cloth. She slowly unwrapped it, held it out.
“I got what you were looking for, Adame,” she said softly. “Here.” She held her breath as the girl drifted to her feet and slowly over the rug to Keegan’s side. She reached her hand out. Almost there.
“What the hell are you doing?” someone yelled from the doorway.
Keegan jumped and turned, the item in her hand falling to the floor. Adame blinked out, followed by all the other people in the room.
Shane stood, one hand gripping the door jamb, the other in a half-raised fist.
And he stared at Keegan as if he’d just seen her murder someone.
About the author:
Natalie J. Damschroder is an award-winning author of contemporary and paranormal romance, with an emphasis on romantic adventure. She has had 31 novels, 11 novellas, and numerous short stories published by several publishers, most recently with Soul Mate Publishing, Entangled Publishing, and Carina Press. She also writes young adult paranormal adventure as NJ Damschroder. Learn more about those books and more here.
Natalie grew up in Massachusetts, and loves the New England Patriots more than anything. (Except her family. And writing and reading. And popcorn.) When she’s not writing, she does freelance editing and proofreading. She and her husband have two grown daughters, one of whom is also a novelist. (The other one prefers math. Smart kid. Practical.)