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The Ghost and the Graveyard

By:Genevieve Jack

The Ghost and the Graveyard
Author:Genevieve Jack

The Ghost and The Graveyard: The Knight Games series, Book 1

Chapter 1

I Get What I Pay For

Welcome to Red Grove. Population 200

"Now, two hundred and one," I murmured as I passed the painted wooden sign in my trusty red Jeep. Small towns like Red Grove always made me think of horror movies as if a gap-toothed, overall-wearing butcher might hobble out of his deep woods shanty, pitchfork in hand, at any moment. The town had an off the charts creepy factor. On my right, a dark forest worthy of the Brothers Grimm. On my left, a cemetery edged in a weathered wrought iron fence. I think there were more than two hundred headstones. More dead than living. Nice.

There must be some mistake. I came here to start over. Could a new life be hiding behind the unappealing rural exterior? My promised house remained a mystery. I double-checked the notebook with my father's scrawled directions resting on the passenger's seat next to me. Technically, I'd lived in Red Grove as a child, but we'd moved before I turned two. I didn't remember the town at all or the residents, living or dead.

I shifted my attention back to my driving. "Holy shit!" I proclaimed as I overcorrected the wheel, and my foot drifted from the gas.

The man on the side of the road was so attractive I could've died-literally. He was planting something. A tree, I think. Every time his shovel hit the dirt, a ripple coursed through his shoulders and down his stomach. I raised an eyebrow at the glint of sun on tanned, shirtless skin. Dark hair, low slung jeans. I tried not to gawk, but the best I could do was to keep my head inside the window.

I was thinking he belonged in a museum, a chiseled-by-the-gods man museum, when my brain was hijacked. I forgot about the road. I forgot where I was going. A fantasy hit me so fast and hard, it could've been a memory.

We were in the shower. I stood behind him, my arms wrapped around his torso, rubbing lather circles down his chest, over his rock-hard abs, and lower. In my daydream, he moaned my name, and I was considering ways to wrap myself around him without breaking the rhythm. The scene was so vivid, the lavender scent of soap filled the cab of my Jeep.

The rat-tat-tat of pebbles hitting the undercarriage wrenched me from my reverie. I slammed on the brakes, sending my vehicle into a reckless skid toward the edge of a stone bridge straight out of a Thomas Kinkade print. Whether by ace driving skills, gravity, or sheer dumb luck, I stalled at the precipice, all white-knuckles and shivering limbs. Eyeing the boulders in the brook below me, I suppressed a lingering fear of plummeting to my doom.

"Hey, are you okay?" the man called. He dropped his shovel and headed toward me, his eyes narrowing in concern.

With a gasp, I clutched at the front of my shirt relieved I was still dressed. What the hell? Sure, he was attractive, but I'd never had that kind of reaction to anyone before. The fantasy was so … real. I tried to shake the vision of him naked from my head.

No way could I explain what just happened. I couldn't possibly tell him about my fantasy, and I wasn't a good enough liar to make up an alternate story on the fly. The hot sting of a blush crept across my face.

"I'm okay. Thanks!" I gave a friendly wave out my window.

He nodded but didn't stop walking toward my car.

Before he could reach me, I accelerated back on course, leaving him staring in my direction. I wasn't trying to be rude. Besides the obvious embarrassment, I had no business talking to a man who looked like that. I had no business talking to any man. Not until I took control of my life again.

I reached the end of the road and pulled into the driveway of the house I hoped would be my salvation, my financial rebirth. The truth? I had bigger things to worry about than a man on the side of the road, no matter how gorgeous. It was time to face my future.

Wedged behind the tailgate of my Jeep was one large moving box. I sighed. My entire life fit inside a cardboard cube with the logo of a defunct trucking company. Technically, the box wasn't even mine; I'd borrowed it from my friend Michelle.

The wrinkled cardboard flaps bowed like judgmental eyebrows, and I slapped them down with unnecessary vigor. I reached for the mammoth cargo, too big to carry from the bottom without completely blocking my face and without those convenient cutout handles you find on cases of beer. I hoisted the box using the pressure hold, bear-hugging the cardboard to my chest and resting the bottom on my knee. It weighed a ton. I did my best to shuffle up the stone pathway to the porch as the leaden box slid down my body centimeter by centimeter. By the time I reached the bottom step, I was hobbling toward the door, holding the box up with my flexed foot.

That's when my hip started vibrating. With one final heave and a contortion of my limbs that must've looked like I was having a seizure, I propelled the box onto the porch and ripped the phone from my pocket. I thumbed the answer button while I kicked the cardboard monster toward the door.

"Hello," I said, in a tone that clearly meant goodbye.

"Grateful? Is that you?"

I lowered the phone from my ear to see Michelle Murphy's margarita fueled grin staring back at me from the screen, a photo I'd taken of her two spring breaks ago before my financial apocalypse. I put on my happy voice. "Yeah, it's me. Sorry, you just caught me trying to launch the moving box from hell onto the porch."

"I should've helped you move."

"It's one box. I think I can handle it."

"Right … That bastard."

"It's my own damn fault. I handed him the money. Who gives a boyfriend that kind of money?" I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity.

"You can't blame yourself. It's not your fault for trusting someone you loved. I'm telling you, you're a victim! Your situation is a manifestation of the blonde paradox."

Michelle and I attended nursing school together. After we graduated, I'd had enough of academia. She, on the other hand, decided to pursue a master's degree in mental health nursing. Now she thinks she knows everything about relationships and psychoanalyzes all of my problems.

Her blonde paradox theory is based on two recent research studies-the type you read about in magazines at grocery store checkouts. The first study found women who look like Barbie-blonde, blue eyed, big boobs-are more attractive to men. Something about these features signifies a more fertile womb to the caveman brain. I loosely fit this description. I do have blue eyes, but my hair is more of a honey blonde than platinum. My boobs are on the large side, but it's because I'm about fifteen pounds heavier than my goal weight. However, Michelle thinks I am close enough to ignite evolutionary passions and this explains why I never lack masculine attention.

But here's the rub. The second study found that men shown pictures of Barbie-ish women scored lower on intelligence tests. Turns out people who believe the "blondes are dumb" stereotype actually take on the projected characteristics of their prejudicial target. Thus the paradox. I attract more men than the average woman, but they degrade into idiots in my mere presence.

The theory does explain some things. Like why I ended up with my snake-belly of an ex-boyfriend, Gary, while Michelle, 5'2" and 160 pounds of dark-headed attitude, is married with a baby.

"So, what should I do? Dye my hair?" I asked.

"Or contacts. Green might be nice."

"You can't be serious."

"No. I'm not. You're a wonderful person. You just need to find someone who will love you for you, the whole package. I know he's out there, somewhere."

"I hope you're right. I can't take another Gary," I said.

Silence. Michelle was probably holding her tongue so she wouldn't say, ‘I told you so.' Smart woman. "So what's the free house look like? Is it as bad as