Lissa has just climbed into the attic of her old family hotel with the intent of scaring away the son of a would-be buyer of the property because she doesn't want the hotel sold to his father.
Sucking in a steadying breath, she put one foot on one joist, the other on the next one, and inched toward the trunk, trailing the cord over her shoulder, hoping it wouldn’t catch on anything and tip her off balance.
As she neared the trunk, the slope of the roof forced her into an awkward crouch. Her full skirt threatened to trip her with each step. Pausing for a moment, she bunched it up under her arms, baring her legs, making her duckwalk more comfortable.
Finally reaching her destination, she set the pack on the trunk, took out the CD player, balanced it on a floor joist beside her, plugged in the timers, set their clocks, and hooked them up to the power bar, which she connected to the extension. The timers began to click slowly around, the first set to trigger the machine at one-thirty in the morning for eight minutes, a second at two-fourteen, for twelve minutes, and the third at three-forty-eight, for another six minutes.
Ghostly cries, sobs, laughter... would they disturb Steve Jackson’s sleep? Would they scare him? And even more important, would they induce him to send home poor reports to his father, regarding the inn’s viability as an investment opportunity?
She doubted it, but the rest of the committee thought it was worth a try.
Hoping the old gypsum board between the rafters would hold the weight of the equipment, she reached out to position the CD player just as an enormous black wolf spider leapt out of the dark and landed square on the back of her hand.
With a scream, she jerked away, felt her feet slip and then she was falling, crashing through the ceiling right over Steve Jackson’s bed.
* * *
The old inn creaked and groaned as heavy winds and rain beat with relentless intensity against the leaded glass windows of his room. Steve felt as gloomy as the weather as he sat leaning against the pillows propped at the head of his brass bed. Some vacation this was turning out to be. Maybe he should have stayed at the bar and taken up the redhead singer-cum-dining room hostess on her tacit invitation, but he hadn’t been in the mood. Nor was he in the mood for the lurid paperback thriller he’d been trying to get into for the past half hour. It wasn’t living up to its hype, any more than the Madrona Inn was living up to its reputation.
Trouble was, he wasn’t in the mood for a vacation, either. When his contract had run out and no one had offered him another one, he’d thought, what the hell, he hadn’t taken time off for three years and now seemed as good a time as any. A low, howling wail quavered in the air for a long, tremulous moment, then stopped suddenly.
Have you met her yet? Have you seen the lady? You know the old inn is haunted, don’t you?
Each time he’d been asked one of those questions by the staff at the inn or the friendly crowd in Chuck¬les, the local hangout, he said that he didn’t believe in ghosts. And he didn’t. Though that wind, if he let his imagination run free, did have a ghostlike wail to it.
A thud from above drew his gaze to the ceiling. “Idiot,” he muttered. “You know perfectly well there’s no such thing as— Arrgh!”
He screamed and hurled himself off his bed as a body crashed feet first through the ceiling accompanied by a shower of broken plaster. Dammit! He, the intrepid deep-sea diver, the fearless explorer of an alien environment, actually screamed. Luckily, his own embarrassing bellow was drowned out by a loud, anguished howl mingled with some pretty hair-raising cussing as the body came to an abrupt halt. Dangling from the hole in the broken plaster were a pair of decidedly shapely, feminine legs.
As he continued to stare, the legs began to flail, and a pair of slender feet clad in brown sandals kicked furiously in the air.
“Hold on!” Steve shouted, leaping back onto his bed. He managed to capture one warm-skinned, smooth-textured, delicate-boned ankle. The free foot then kicked him square in the face.
Blood gushed out of his nose, splashing across the white sheet and pillows.
“Let me go!” the voice demanded, muffled as if its owner had a mouthful of cloth, or had her head buried in a sack.
Steve blinked hard, his eyes flooded with stinging tears of pain. “Let you go? Are you nuts, or what?” To better control the legs, he wrapped one arm around the woman’s knees, pinning her lower legs against his shoulder. “I’m trying to help you, so hold still!” He gave a tug and felt her body descend.
Instinctively, wanting to make her descent as smooth as possible, he placed the flat of his hand under her buttocks as they emerged.
“Get your hand off my butt, you lecher!”
“Jeez!” He moved his hand down to her thigh. “You think I’m enjoying this?” He stared upwards at a round, lush bottom covered in nothing but a pair of hot-pink panties with a dainty row of lace around the legs. “In case you haven’t noticed,” he added, “you’re stuck in the middle of my ceiling, sweet-cheeks.”
“‘Sweet-cheeks?”‘ she repeated, her voice an indignant squawk. “Nobody calls anybody that anymore!”
Steve laughed. “They do if they’ve got the kind of view I have down here.”