Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Nothing to Fear
Out in the yard, a chill breeze bullied its way through the tangle of tree branches and undergrowth that grew right up to the Cottage in some places while hanging well back in others. The tip of a limb tapped window glass on the south side of the house, then dragged slowly across weathered siding in a screech pitched perfectly to be felt in gut and bones. Eliza shivered and tugged the zipper of her hoodie up to her chin. Then she let her head fall back against the door and laughed tiredly. “God, this house…” She shivered again, feeling very tiny all of a sudden compared to the hulking decay of Chaste Tree Cottage.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket with an incoming message and she thought, what now? The sad truth was that she got more calls and texts from the pharmacy regarding her mother’s medications than from anyone else. After checking her fingers for blood, she pulled out her phone, handling it awkwardly with her uninjured left hand. Her face broke into a smile. It wasn’t the pharmacy—it was Joey.
Her very hot but mostly absentee upstairs tenant.
They weren’t friends, exactly, but they were friendly. Joey always texted her when he was coming back to the Cottage for a few days between assignments. Sometimes because he wanted her to check something in his place for him—make sure the fridge was still running, see if rodents had gotten into his cereal. That sort of thing. But sometimes it was just to touch base. Eliza lived for those texts. Her life might be a bleak existence of managing Minnie’s mental illness and performing futile acts of maintenance on a terminally neglected Victorian, but somewhere out there a hot guy was thinking of her.
Before she could click on Joey’s message, Eliza’s phone flashed a notification that she was now connected to the EcoAbode 3 Smart Thermostat. “Lies,” she muttered, thumbing the window away. Yes, there was a smart thermostat installed in the foyer next to the stairs, but there was nothing else in the house modern enough for it to connect with. No alarm system. No central air. Certainly no solar panels.
Her phone lagged (that was becoming an all-too-frequent issue), then finally disgorged Joey’s text: Coming home tomorrow p.m. for extended stay. Can you turn the heat up in my place?
Eliza tried not to be disappointed. Joey usually prefaced his requests with a little chitchat—where he’d been, what the weather was like there, funny (though non-NDA violating) anecdotes about the clients he was protecting.
Maybe he was having a bad day. He probably wasn’t coming home for a long stay by choice. Joey was a nomad to the bone.
Sure, she replied. You ok?
A small text bubble appeared. Yep. A moment later, he added, minor concussion—no biggie.
Eliza’s heart gave a hard thump and adrenaline trickled cold through her veins. She didn’t know exactly what Joey’s work as an executive security specialist entailed. She’d been too shy to ask. But she worried about him while he was away. Which was stupid, because she had more than enough to worry about between Minnie's mental health and her threadbare finances. Plus, Joey was the epitome of competence and good sense.
But she couldn't help it. He was a good guy, and, through no fault of his own, the highlight of her current living situation. So she worried.
Liable to Bite
Lisa dumped the remains of her kale salad and her biodegradable spork in the landfill bin and was tossing the bio-plastic bowl in the recycling when her Uncle Ted’s voice boomed over the announcement system: “This is the Great California ShakeOut!”
Startled, she dropped to a crouch. Her phone flipped out of the pocket of her slim work pants and clattered to the floor.
Earthquakes? Didn’t they have bigger problems to worry about? Like, say, ten percent of the human population catching lycanthropy over the last decade?
Bile crept up her throat. Her hair seemed to be standing on end.
Holy overreaction, Batman.
She picked up her phone with a shaking hand and sat on the floor, back pressed to the cabinet that housed extra sugar and creamer. “Goddamit, Uncle Ted.” She pulled at the neck of her thin sweater. West Coast’s open-plan, Scandinavian modern kitchen suddenly felt small and stifling.
Ted stayed on script with the earthquake drill text, but personalized the delivery by playing the jaunty strains of a sea chanty in the background. A recorded seagull cried out as he enjoined his “mateys” to drop, cover, and hold on.
Lisa’s colleagues were snorting and giggling. Someone hollered “arrr!” from reception and was answered by an “avast!” from sales.
Her heart pounded in her chest, her breath fluttered in her throat like a trapped animal. She closed her eyes.
Breathe in one-two-three. Breathe out one-two-three.
She was fine. This wasn’t threatening. Just weird.
She inhaled more deeply and a delicious, musky scent tickled her brain. Her eyes flew open.
Her dream man was crouched in front of her, gorgeous in a soft, pinstriped cotton shirt and a pair of those stretchy tactical slacks guys were wearing this season.
Lisa's heart stuttered, her body cheered. But, man, why did he have to show up for the first time in weeks when she was having a panic attack?
Phil's gaze moved from her brow, which was probably beaded with sweat, to her hand, which was white-knuckling her phone, to her breasts—which were hopefully behaving themselves. She could usually rely on them.
His light-green eyes travelled upward again, meeting her own. “Are you okay?”
She nodded. Her cheeks were on fire. She cleared her throat. “Yep. I’m fine. Thanks.”
Phil grinned. “Good. Because it seemed like you were freaking out.”
Lisa laughed weakly, smoothing her hair. The bristly area behind her ear was standing aggressively on end. Her fingernails had taken on a brownish hue. She balled her hands into fists and hid them behind her back. “The Great ShakeOut caught me off guard. Add in seagulls and accordions…”
“It is a little jarring.”
Coralie lives in Northern California with her spouse, two teens, two dogs, a cat, and a lot of plants. (Poor plants--always an afterthought.) She loves books, hiking, native flora, stunning vistas, chocolate, and naps.