When the Non-Agency tells Tom he's dead, he doesn't see much reason to believe them. But he is, and it's their job to convince him. When he falls for Mary, the still-living daughter of his murderer, Tom knows the Non-Agency will try to keep him from her. They'll stop at nothing to send him towards the light, and he's about to learn there are worse things than dying..
There's a sample of roughly the first three chapters available through Smashwords, but here's another:
“What are you?” asked a female voice.
I examined my surroundings. Mr. Everay’s house, it seemed, had a loft bedroom. It was furnished with the same wealth as his own chamber – not a servant’s room. In the middle of the room, facing me over the arm of an enormous armchair, was a girl.
She had copper hair and a round face with wide, interested eyes. She was wrapped in a quilt in the chair except for her right arm, bare to the shoulder, which was lying across her body. I found the curve of her shoulder irresistibly fascinating.
“What-?” I managed.
“You just came through the door,” she said, glaring at me.
“Through?” I looked back at the door.
“Without opening it. What are you?”
I pulled myself into a proper sitting position and stared at my hands, not wanting to admit what I was going to have to admit. I stood up and placed a hand on the door; it seemed solid enough.
“I’m a ghost,” I said, feeling a sudden chill in my fingers and toes.
“A ghost? A dead person?”
“I... guess so. I came through the door, didn’t I?”
“Could be a rogue magician.”
“Do I look like a magician?” I turned to face her, arms spread wide.
“I don’t know. I’ve never met one. You don’t look like a ghost.”
“You’ve seen ghosts?”
“Well, no. But I’d expect to be able to see through a ghost.” She pouted slightly. I suppose I was being a bit snippy, but death will do that to a man.
“I’ll get like that eventually. This is, uh, a new thing for me.”
“You were the boy who broke in, then.” She nodded to herself with a smile.
“Wha? How did you-?”
“You’re a new ghost, and you’re running around my house where last night there was a break-in and Mortimer threw a boy in the river. I assumed you were younger, though.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but stopped at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. The girl put a finger to her lips, then cocked her head in a listening pose.
“Mary, dear?” The voice was Mr. Everay’s, but with a slight, squeaky overtone which was probably his attempt at politeness, “May I come in?”
“Not now, daddy, I’m not decent!” Mary clearly had a flair for performance; her voice shrilled in a perfect imitation of alarm as she spoke.
“Did the boy who was here go into your room?” Everay’s voice dropped sharply in pitch and I felt my pulse pick up as I watched Mary’s response.
She narrowed her eyes at me and treated me to a long, slow, malicious grin, before saying, “Boy, daddy? Whatever are you talking about?”
“There was a boy here causing trouble again,” Everay growled, “Mortimer said he came up this way and vanished into your room.”
“Vanished, daddy? Mort must have been seeing things. My door’s been locked since supper.” She was acting the part well, and gave a shrug. Unfortunately for me – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – the gesture revealed another half-inch of her shoulder, and still no clothing.
“And you haven’t seen anyone? Or heard anything?”
“I heard you running around, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with me. Are you angry, daddy?”
“Not with you, my sweet, don’t worry,” Everay’s voice went squeaky again, “I’ll give you a minute to get dressed.”
Mary and I stared at each other as Everay’s footsteps went back down the stairs.
I whispered, “Why help me?”
“You’re interesting. And I’m bored.”
I looked around the room again. There was plenty of comfort – the armchair, another extravagant four-poster bed, a leather divan – but there didn’t seem to be very much to do. Not that I had any idea how rich folk spent their time.
“He keeps you locked away like this?”
“Oh, I have a key. I’m not supposed to leave the house, but sometimes Mort will let me out while daddy’s not around.”
“I see how you would be bored.” It sounded like luxury to me.
Mary ignored my sarcasm with a smug, girlish grin. “It isn’t really too bad. Daddy does it because he loves me and he doesn’t want to lose me.”
I looked back at the door.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “Unless he’s really angry, we have a few minutes.”
“And if he is very angry?”
“He’ll get his spare key and come straight back. But I doubt you could have done anything to make him that angry.”
“I... uh, I tried to kill him.”
“That might do it, yes,” she frowned, then looked away.
“It was revenge,” I protested.
“I didn’t think it would be anything else.”
“I didn’t actually kill him.”
“Well, obviously. Do you have to kill him before you can leave this world? I read a book like that once.” She nodded to herself again.
“No. Well, sort of. It wasn’t my idea, but they said it would help.”
“’They’ told you. I assume ‘they’ have some authority in the matter?”
I shrugged. “They call themselves the Non-Agency, and apparently it’s their job to get ghosts to move along.”
“You only have their word for this.”
“True, but they did... well... they helped me talk to God.”
“You don’t sound very sure of that.”
“I don’t know what it was, but it scared the life out of me.”
“I think that was the idea. But it was certainly strange.”
“But you still only have their word it was God.”
“True. But what else do I have to go on? Something strange is clearly going on.”
“That I can agree with.” She tugged at the quilt, turning slightly in her chair to look at me straight-on. I managed to get my gaze back from her ever-barer shoulder to her face before it became too rude.
“Whatever’s going on, they know something about it. I’m trapped with them until I learn it.”
“You can’t be that trapped if they’re letting you run around killing people.”
“I don’t mean like a rat. Uh, more like... I just feel like I have to work with them for now. Don’t you feel trapped too?”
“It isn’t too bad.” She grinned, “besides, now I have you to keep me company.”
“You have me?”
“You’d better keep coming back. You owe me your life.”
“I have no life to owe.” Two could play that game.
She frowned and stuck out her lower lip for a moment. “So why were you running from daddy?”
I stared at her, speechless. What had I been so afraid of?
“You’re acting like you’re still alive,” she said with another of those little smarter-than-thou nods.
“I still feel alive.”
“You still look alive. If I hadn’t watched you come through the door, I wouldn’t believe you were a ghost.”
“I think it only happened because I wasn’t expecting the door to be there. The Non-Agency pulled a couple of tricks like that on me.”
“Must have been funny,” she smirked.
“Not really. I didn’t fall down some stairs that weren’t there.”
She laughed, her smirk slithering around into a neat little smile. Her lips, I noticed, were very full; it gave her smile a cute pout.
“It could be fun to see what happens if I kiss you,” she said. I blinked at her, worrying I might have spoken out loud. She carried on, “If you can walk through doors when you’re not thinking about them, I bet I could get you to fall through the floor.”
“Pretty cocky, aren’t you? I’ve kissed a lot of girls.”
“I’ve kissed a lot of boys.”
“Your father lets you-?”
“I don’t sneak out to go shoe-shopping, boy. Not usually, anyway.”
She shifted in her seat, and a little more shoulder emerged from the quilt she was cocooned in. Whatever she was wearing within there, it had a narrow, lacy shoulder-strap that I couldn’t take my eyes off. She laughed again.
“Can you do it on command? Walk through things, I mean?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t tried.”
“You’d better start trying, then.”
“Daddy will be back any moment, and if you’re here when he comes in, we’ll both be in trouble. You wouldn’t want to cause me any trouble, would you?” She gave what she probably thought was a simper; the result was a mix of exaggerated pout and wince.
I raised an eyebrow, “What if I can’t?”
“Then we’ll find out whether daddy really can hurt you. You can’t stay here.”
“Really?” I treated her bare shoulder to another lingering glance, waiting to make sure she noticed, “How disappointing.”
Her eyes went wide for a moment before she smirked again, “Behave. That’s no way to speak to a lady!”
“Ladies don’t sneak away from their fathers to kiss boys. Or lounge around half-naked.”
“I wasn’t exactly expecting a street brat to walk through the door. Staying indecent always buys me a little time from Daddy.”
A muffled thud from downstairs fell through the gap in the conversation. I said, “Which way’s the best for me to get out?”
“I have no idea.”
“We’re on the second floor! I can’t just walk through a wall.”
“If you can walk through walls, falling shouldn’t hurt.”
“Easy for you to say.”
I looked around, “Is there a window in here?”
“Not that you could climb out of.”
“I just want to see if I can see a way to climb down.”
“This isn’t a stunning display of bravery you’re putting on. Logically, you should be invulnerable.” She wasn’t being playful any more. Her tone was a little too close to her father’s when I had a knife to his throat, and I wondered if his eyes had been half as steely at the time.
“And if I’m not?”
“Then I’m sure daddy will be happy all the same. Besides, you couldn’t die falling from this room. It might hurt, but you’d be able to get away, even if you are alive.”
I couldn’t argue with that. I walked over to the wall by the door and put a hand on it, trying to focus on being dead.
“Hey, boy,” Mary said from behind me. I turned. She said, “What’s your name?”
“I... I’m not supposed to say. The Non-Agency said it’s a bad idea.”
“They won’t know.”
“They might, actually. They have some very clever tricks.” There was another bump from downstairs, followed by what might have been footsteps approaching.
“Oh,” she looked down, then back at me, “You will come back and see me again, right?”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to. It depends on the Non-Agency.”
She frowned, then stood, leaving her quilt on the chair. She was wearing a lacy slip which might have been real silk. She filled it well, but with a few extra curves here and there which told me how she spent her life of luxury. Still, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
The sounds from below were definitely footsteps. Mary walked up to me where I stood by the wall. I started to lean forward towards her. She planted a hand in the middle of my chest and looked me in the eyes with another playful smirk, then shoved.
I was surprised – and disappointed – enough to forget about the wall. The ground outside was a different matter.