A mysterious death in a muddy swamp, missing children in different states…psychic Aubrey Ellis and her partner, investigative reporter Levi St John, have their hands full. The added strain of raising their son, who struggles with his own psychic gift, pushes life to the brink of collapse.
Enter Zeke Dublin—Aubrey’s first love from her carnival past. Tensions escalate when it’s clear that the attraction between them is alive and well. But as Levi discovers disturbing clues about the body pulled from the swamp, he begins to suspect Zeke’s sudden presence is more than coincidence.
As Aubrey’s uncanny abilities take an unsettling turn, she fears that this time her own child is in danger. Who can Aubrey trust to help solve the unknowns surrounding her life—the father of her son, or a man who’s always understood the deepest secrets of her psychic gift?
“Tell me,” she said. “How is . . . life?”
“We haven’t talked face-to-face in what, five years?” She found it hard to fathom—Zeke had once defined so much of her life.
“I’ve had my share of changes lately.” He hesitated. “Work . . . other things.”
“That’s right. Last time you were in town, you made quite an impression. Levi and I could hardly believe you work for Serino Enterprises. Small world.” Aubrey ran her fingertips over her still-chilly arms. The small-world discovery had surprised her then, not having thought about her encounter with Eli Serino in years. He was the nephew of Zeke’s boss and the boy who’d committed suicide in the house on Acorn Circle, an angry spirit who’d scared the bejesus out of her. “Remember, I told you I had a, uh . . . run-in with the Serino’s dead son. Is that what you still do, work for the Serino family?”
“The brother, Jude. Actually, we parted ways.” He was quiet for a moment. “I finally worked up my nerve, hit a final straw, and cut ties—permanently.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. You seemed to like your job.” Zeke glanced at the carafe of coffee. Aubrey leaned in the direction the server had gone. “The waitress certainly disappeared. Did you want something to eat?” Aubrey poured coffee in his cup, nudging a stack of sugar packets toward him. “Maybe the muffin?” Without a thought, she split the fat pastry in two. The communal gesture made her think of all the things she and Zeke had shared, the ways they’d shared them.
“I’m afraid I didn’t bring my appetite, sweetheart.” He leaned his arms on the table. “I just wanted to take a good long look at you.” He grinned, a sight that still made Aubrey breathe deep. “You’re pretty as ever.”
Aubrey picked at the muffin, gazing into the teacup. “Definitely not aging as well as you.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
And now it sounded like she was fishing for a compliment. “So you’ve left your job with Serino Enterprises. What will you do now?”
“I don’t need much moneywise. Lately it doesn’t even feel like I need that. Kind of liberating. I’ll be okay for a while. I’m not sure what comes next.” His stare lingered. “Maybe I’ll shop around. See if there are any carnivals for sale. Does Craigslist have a category for that?”
Aubrey laughed, but she didn’t want to pry at what sounded like a downturn in Zeke’s luck. At the Heinz-Bodette reunion, he’d hired a limousine to transport their group—Aubrey, Nora, Charley, and Yvette. “Change can be a good thing.” But as Aubrey looked at him, the dashing, tux-wearing Zeke from that night seemed to have vanished. In his place was long-ago Zeke: A worn flannel shirt—the kind she used to swipe from him at the end of every season, an annual Zeke keepsake. A dark T-shirt with a frayed edge peeked out from his collar. Jeans. Not exactly executive attire.
“I could always pop in on Nora.” Zeke’s usual confident look faded. “Can’t quite recall the last time I saw her.”
“She’s still living near Las Vegas?”
“She is. Her son, Kieran—he’s a teenager now. Their little girl . . . Emerald, she won’t be far behind. So tell me,” he said, switching gears. “I want to hear about you and—”
Aubrey cut him off. “So you’re going to take some time now that you’ve left Serino Enterprises. Sounds reinvigorating.”
“Closer to reinvention. My last job with Jude, I was working on a residential development in Maine. A different leg of Serino Enterprises—riskier.” Zeke sighed, which read as uncomfortable. “Anyway . . . the last business prediction I made for Jude, it was a big investment. It didn’t turn out the way he’d anticipated.”
It seemed safe to assume that Zeke had been let go from his job, and Aubrey focused on nibbling on her half of the muffin. “Sounds like maybe old times are still the best times to talk about when it comes to you and me.”
“Can’t disagree. Carnival days were good. In the moment, maybe we didn’t know how good.”
“Years ago, you couldn’t have convinced me of that. But definitely simple . . . sweet, compared to now.”
Hearing her name forced eye contact.
“What’s wrong with now?”
And for as well as Aubrey could read Zeke’s mind, clearly he could read hers. “Life . . . Levi, things are just . . . complicated right now.” She busied her mouth by sipping tea. Discussing her relationship with Levi was a line in the sand. Yet Zeke was still her oldest confidant. And honestly? She could use one. “Actually . . . we’re, um . . . we’re not living together.”
“Really?” Zeke nodded slowly. “Charley didn’t say anything in her letters. I’m sorry. He, uh . . . Levi seemed like the guy.”
“Yeah. The one who gets the girl. The one I’m supposed to hate.”
It all flowed back into her brain, the delicate, heartfelt memory and Zeke’s vow—to loathe the man who won the woman.
“Is it temporary, or are you two heading to something more permanent?”
“Like a divorce?”
“I don’t mean to be blunt, but since you mention it . . .”
“A divorce would be highly unlikely.” She paused. “Especially since Levi and I aren’t married.”
He stared as if “married” required a definition. “Really?” Zeke reached for the coffee cup but appeared too stunned to pick it up. “You never . . .”
“Tied the knot?” Aubrey untucked and retucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Nope.”
“Really?” he said again.
Aubrey rolled her eyes. “Okay, could you find another interjection? And you don’t have to look so surprised.”
“I’m not.” Zeke frowned, running a hand through his dark hair. “Okay. I am. I’m totally surprised. Last time I saw you . . . you never indicated not being married.” He blinked. “And the way Charlotte talked about you and Levi in her letters . . . I assumed. I mean, there was a suddenness to it all, a letter . . . what? About a dozen years ago . . . ?”
“Thirteen next summer,” she said, factoring in her pregnancy and Pete’s age.
“Even so, when Charlotte told me she was going to be a great-grandmother. Heck. I thought she just spared me the wedding-day details.”
Aubrey stared into her cup. If tea leaves had been floating, she wondered how they might have read. “To be honest”—she looked up—“I don’t have one clear reason why Levi and I never married. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you last time I saw you.” She shrugged. “Levi fits well into a lot of things . . . a suit, fatherhood—which he surprised himself with—his job. Marriage is more of a mold.” She thought for a moment. “I’m not sure it comes in Levi sizing.”
“Fair enough. But I know you, Aubrey. That kind of commitment was always high on your list. If I recall, lack of commitment is what did in husband number one.”
“Thanks for the reminder.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting those things. It was the ticket for Nora and bumbling Ian—two kids and a collie.”
“Tell me more about them. I need more than a mention.” She smiled. “I miss Nora.”
“Change of subject. Got it.”
About the Author
Laura Spinella is an East Coast author, originally from Long Island, New York. She pursued her undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of Georgia. The southern locale provided the inspiration for her first novel, Beautiful Disaster, which garnered multiple awards, including a Romance Writers of America RITA nomination. She’s also lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in North Carolina before relocating to Massachusetts. She and her family currently live in the Boston area, where she is always writing her next book. Ghost Gifts is Laura’s third work of romantic fiction. She also writes sensual romance under the pen name L. J. Wilson. Visit her website at www.lauraspinella.net.