Love, Like Ghosts: A Bay City Paranormal Investigations series related story.
Truth. Lies. A century-old mystery. What a tangled web…
At age eleven, Adrian Broussard accidentally used his mind to open a portal to another dimension. Now, ten years later, he’s successfully harnessed his strong psychokinetic abilities. In the process, he’s learned the lessons which have become the guiding principles of his life. Absolute truth. Absolute control. Always.
Sticking to his personal code of ethics has never been a problem, until two chance meetings—one with a hundred-year-old ghost, one with a handsome, very-much-alive man—turn his orderly existence upside down.
Having grown up in a family of paranormal investigators, Adrian is intrigued by the spirit of Lyndon Groome and determined to solve the mystery of his death. Greg Woodhall, however, affects Adrian in unpredictable ways. Not only does his every touch challenge Adrian’s hard-won control over his abilities, his company quickly becomes a light in Adrian’s lonely life.
As the mystery surrounding Lyndon’s death turns sinister, Adrian’s relationship with Greg deepens into something serious. Something Adrian wants to keep. But intimacy isn’t as easy as honesty, and when the heart’s involved, the line between right and wrong can blur.
(Warning: This book contains a gory ghost, a haunted castle, nerdy college parties and gay sex enhanced by psychic powers.)
© Copyright 2009 Ally Blue
Adrian Broussard expected to encounter the ghost of Lyndon Groome at some point. He just never expected it to happen his first afternoon at the castle. In broad daylight.
The apparition floated just above the dark gray stone floor, spectral brains leaking from its shattered skull. A blotch of nearly transparent blood wavered in and out of existence on the floor beneath its bare feet.
Adrian found those particular details terribly intriguing. According to the stories he’d heard since arriving on the UNC campus three years ago, Lyndon Groome had vanished without a trace on Halloween night, nineteen-oh-five. Since then, Lyndon’s sad, blood-soaked ghost had been occasionally spotted here in the tower room on Halloween night. Some stories claimed he ran away with an older, married woman. Another rumor had it that Lyndon, distraught over the loss of a lover, had run from the castle in the dead of night and been murdered by persons unknown. There were other stories, of course, but those two were the most persistent, probably because Lyndon had never turned up anywhere and no body had ever been found.
It fascinated Adrian to come across a ghost story in which so many visible details appeared to fit with at least one of the more popular tales, even if the spirit itself happened to show up a bit early.
From his spot in the doorway of the small octagonal room, Adrian darted a swift look down the narrow stone staircase spiraling into the distance behind him. Laughter, conversation and the echo of hammers drifted from the group of fellow college students working three stories below, but as far as he could tell no one had followed him. Which was a good thing, since he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be up here.
Adrian returned his attention to Lyndon Groome, who floated nearly invisible in the sunlight streaming through the window. The specter’s pale eyes stared straight into his. The colorless lips moved, shaping a word Adrian couldn’t quite hear.
Moving with careful precision, Adrian paced forward one slow step at a time, his hand stretched toward the diaphanous figure. He opened his mind just enough to let a trickle of his psychokinesis past the absolute control he’d gained over the past decade. His power attracted paranormal entities like a magnet, which was one reason he kept such a tight lid on it. Maybe a little taste would lure poor, sad Lyndon close enough for Adrian to communicate with him. He’d been able to interact in a limited way with spirits in the past by touching them, so he saw no reason why it wouldn’t work this time. With a bit of luck, maybe he would be the one to finally learn Lyndon’s fate.
As if in response to Adrian’s thoughts, the apparition wafted closer. Adrian stopped moving and waited, his gaze holding Lyndon’s. Come on, Lyndon. Don’t be afraid.
Lyndon’s shade drifted nearer. A chill raised the hairs on Adrian’s arms. “That’s it,” he whispered. “Come here.”
“Who’re you talking to?”
At the sound of the unexpected voice from the doorway, Lyndon vanished, taking the puddle of brains and blood with him. Adrian shut his eyes for a moment to calm the brief flash of irritation before it could get away from him. Between the set-up and the actual work of running the planned Halloween haunted house here at Groome Castle, he had three whole weeks of work ahead of him. Surely he would have another chance to attempt communication with the entity.
Opening his eyes, Adrian turned to face the newcomer. It was a boy he’d never seen before. A very good-looking boy, with a dancer’s body poured into snug jeans and a long-sleeved Carolina T-shirt. Adrian swallowed. “Um. Hi. I’m Adrian Broussard.”
The big gray eyes lit up with a definite spark of interest, and the pretty lips curved into a flirtatious smile. “Greg Woodhall.” Crossing to where Adrian stood, Greg held out a hand. “Very nice to meet you, Adrian.”
“You too.” Not knowing any way out of it, Adrian took Greg’s hand and shook. As soon as he politely could, Adrian retrieved his hand and stuck both in the front pockets of his jeans. “Are you part of the haunted house?”
“Yep. I’m playing the ghost of Lyndon Groome.” Greg brushed past Adrian. “I figured I’d come up here and get a feel for the place, you know? Since this is where the ghost is supposed to be.”
“That makes sense.” Adrian watched Greg wander across the room to peer out one of the four tall, narrow windows set in the stone walls. God, those jeans were tight. Adrian looked away.
“What about you?” Turning, Greg leaned on the windowsill, crossed his arms and flashed a wide grin. “Are you in theater? Because I gotta tell you, that would make me very happy.”
That made Adrian laugh in spite of himself. No one had ever mistaken him for a theater kid before. “No, I’m majoring in physics.”
Greg’s mouth formed an “O” that made Adrian think of things he hadn’t thought of in a long time. “Physics. Wow. What brings a smart boy like you to our theater department’s humble haunted house?”
“Work study.” Adrian shrugged. “The castle’s an interesting place, though. There’s a lot of history here.”
“That’s true.” Unfolding his arms, Greg tucked a curl of golden brown hair behind his ear and pinned Adrian with a curious look. “Who were you talking to earlier? When I came in?”
Greg gaped. Adrian stifled a smile. He did love to shock people with the truth.
“Um. Okay.” Greg pushed away from the window, eyeing Adrian with rather more caution than before. “Seriously?”
“You’re telling me you really think you were just talking to the ghost of Lyndon Groome?”
“I don’t think so. I know I was.”
“Again, yes.” Adrian grinned. “You’re repeating yourself, Greg.”
That got him a sly smile that made his pulse pick up. “Well, Adrian, it’s not every day a guy hears a handsome physics major say things like I just had a nice chat with a ghost, you know?”
A blush heated Adrian’s face before he could stop it. He forced it back, annoyed with himself. He hadn’t let simple physical attraction get to him like this since high school. Of course, he hadn’t actually felt this attracted to a guy since…well, ever, really. Not even his one and only lover, Christian, back in freshman year, had given him the same quick thrill through his blood that this stranger did.
Before the silence could stretch on long enough to become awkward, footsteps pounded up the stairs and a young woman in paint-splattered jeans and a UNC sweatshirt burst into the room. “Adrian, there you are. We need you downstairs. We can’t figure out how to get the frame straight for the false wall.”
Adrian breathed quietly through the brief surge of impatience. No matter how many times he’d tried to explain it, the group of freshmen he’d been working with all morning just couldn’t seem to understand that being a physics major did not make him a carpenter. If anything, the theater upperclassmen would know more about it than he did, since they had years of experience in building sets. But the younger students hadn’t listened to him so far, and the older ones seemed happy enough to let him deal with it.
Be calm, Adrian. This is only a little thing. You’ve helped build a few things at home. Surely you can help these kids puzzle out how to put together a simple frame.
“All right, Chelsea, I’m on my way.” Adrian glanced at Greg, who was watching him with a grin that made Adrian not want to turn his back on it. “You coming?”
Greg sauntered forward, the predatory grin widening. “I will if you want me to,” he murmured, brushing Adrian’s shoulder as he passed.
Greg and Chelsea were already out the door before Adrian got it. Groaning, he clapped a hand to his forehead. His brother Sean would tease him without mercy for not having picked up on what was, in retrospect, obvious innuendo. Thankfully, Sean was a few hundred miles away right now, playing his fourth game as a freshman for the Auburn Tigers. He would never have to know of Adrian’s humiliating cluelessness.
Of course, it was exactly the sort of thing that would make Sean laugh, and that just happened to be one of Adrian’s favorite sounds in the whole world. Maybe it wasn’t a cool thing for a guy to admit about his little brother, but Adrian didn’t much care about being cool. Staring death in the face at the ripe old age of eleven tended to strip away all such unimportant things and leave behind only what mattered. Like hearing your brother laugh.
Making a mental note to videocall Sean that night, Adrian followed Chelsea and Greg downstairs.
By the time Adrian got back to his apartment that evening, he had two video messages waiting for him—one from his mother and her husband, Lee, and one from a wildly excited Sean, both bearing news of the Tigers’ landslide victory over the Bulldogs.
Adrian smiled to himself as he viewed his brother’s video on his laptop. Maybe he ought to wait until the next day to call Sean back. Judging by the noisy crowd of kids clustered around Sean, the celebratory party promised to be a long one.
After a moment’s thought, Adrian decided to work on his paper for his Quantum Mechanics class. It wasn’t due for nearly two weeks, but he saw no sense in putting it off. Besides, it wasn’t like he had anything else to keep him busy. The few people here who he could call friends would be down on Franklin Street by now, celebrating UNC’s afternoon win over Virginia Tech. Adrian had tried joining in the parties at first, but he’d never felt comfortable with the rowdy crowds, the drinking or the sex so thick in the air his skin burned with it. These days, he spent game nights the same way he spent most other nights—alone in his apartment, studying.
Which was another good reason to wait until tomorrow to call Sean, Adrian reflected as he settled into the overstuffed chair with his laptop and clicked open his “QM” file. He knew Sean meant well, but he didn’t much feel like listening to another lecture about getting out of that damned apartment or meeting a nice guy or any of the other things Sean tended to worry about. Adrian wasn’t in college to meet men. He was here to get his doctorate. And after that? To take the theory and practical application of multidimensional physics as far as it would go, and beyond. To finally understand the science behind the mysterious and deadly gateways which still opened from time to time between the human world and a distinctly unhuman one.
At age eleven, he’d hungered for revenge on the creatures from the other dimension which had come within seconds of killing his entire family, and had haunted his nightmares for years afterward. A decade later, his goals had changed. Instead of a child’s nebulous dream of vengeance, he now had a solid plan. Learn. Understand. Destroy.
Not that he would ever tell his family that. His father especially. Though he had a feeling his dad’s now-husband, Sam, suspected him of more than a simple interest in physics.
Realizing his mind had wandered off course, Adrian shook himself. He hated it when that happened. Usually he had better control.
“Focus,” he reminded himself in a stern voice. “You have another full day at Groome Castle tomorrow. You need to get as much done on your paper tonight as you can.”
Nodding to himself, Adrian clicked into the university library. He needed to hunt down the latest research on the practical applications of quantum entanglement.
He was deep in the midst of his work when the videochat alert on his Mac trilled.
For a second, he considered ignoring it. He was well and truly on a roll with this paper, and he hated to stop now.
Of course, quantum mechanics came as naturally to him as English Lit did to some other people. He could pick up where he left off without any trouble.
The alert sounded again. He glanced at the chat icon on the dock. Sean’s name flashed neon green over the top of it. Smiling, Adrian clicked over and accepted the chat invitation.
Sean’s beaming face popped up onscreen in front of the old Tokyo Police Club poster hanging in his dorm room. “Adrian! Why didn’t you call me back?”
“I thought you’d be out partying.” Adrian stretched, working some of the stiffness out of his spine. “Congratulations on beating the Bulldogs, by the way.”
“Thanks.” Sean bounced in place, hazel eyes shining. “Man, it was awesome. I wish you could’ve been here.”
“Yeah, me too. Mom called me earlier, she said she and Lee went to the game.”
“They did. Dad and Sam came too. And so did Dean and Sommer, and Danny and her husband. Hell, Andre even brought Lucy and Bella with him.”
The thought of Andre’s elegant wife and their rambunctious toddler at the football game brought a grin to Adrian’s face. “That’s awesome.”
“It totally was.” Sean chortled in obvious delight. “The whole Bay City Paranormal gang was here, except David and Cecile, and they called from the office. It was cool.”
Adrian laughed. “Dad and Sam are leading a Haunted Auburn tour this weekend, aren’t they?”
“Yep. You know Dad, never waste a trip on one thing when you can do something else at the same time.”
“Sean, come on, you know he’d never consider any of your college games a waste of time.”
“I know that. I was just joking.” Sean tilted his head sideways. “What the hell are you doing, anyway?”
Sean’s mouth fell open. “On Saturday night? Are you nuts?”
“I like quantum mechanics.” Adrian tried not to sound defensive, but it didn’t work. It never worked with Sean. They knew each other too well.
“Quantum mechanics. You’re spending Saturday night alone with a bunch of quarks and shit.”
“Entangled particles, actually.”
“Hell, I don’t even know what that means.” Sighing, Sean shook his head. “Speaking of tangling your particles, when’s the last time you got laid?”
Even though he had no intention of answering that question, Adrian couldn’t help thinking back to the last time he and Christian had sex. God, had it really been a year and a half? “Um…”
Evidently Sean could read minds. He groaned. “Jesus, Adrian.”
“Give me a break. It’s hard for me to meet guys here.”
“Are you kidding? There’s almost thirty thousand students there! It’s the size of a town, for Christ’s sake. And I know damn well there’s a lot of gay dudes there. So how does a smart, good-looking guy like you have trouble getting a date?”
Adrian smiled. “I appreciate your faith in me, but you know I have a harder time talking to people than you do.”
“It doesn’t take that much. Just smile and say hi, is all.”
“Easy for you to say. Everyone likes you.”
The second he said it, Adrian wished he could take it back. A lifetime of jealousy lay behind those three words, and they both knew it.
The easy smile vanished from Sean’s face. He leaned forward on his elbows, staring at Adrian with an intense determination that had become all too familiar over the years. “I know they do. But everybody would like you too, if you gave them the chance. You’re a great guy, Adrian. You just have to open up enough to let other people see that.”
Yeah, because everyone loves a guy who can move things with his mind.
Adrian shoved the bitter thought to the back of his brain and pretended keen interest in his keyboard so he wouldn’t have to meet Sean’s painfully sincere gaze. He hated being discussed, analyzed and advised, even by his beloved brother. Fortunately, he knew just how to make Sean stop.
Straightening his shoulders, Adrian forced himself to look into Sean’s eyes. “Actually, I kind of met someone today.”
Sean lit up like a spotlight. “Well why the hell didn’t you say so in the first place? What’s his name? How’d you meet him?”
“His name’s Greg Woodhall. We met today at Groome Castle. He’s a theater major. He’s playing the ghost of Lyndon Groome at that haunted house I told you about.” Adrian felt an uncharacteristically goofy smile spread over his face. “He was coming on to me like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Wow. Sounds promising.” Sean leaned closer, grinning. “Is he cute?”
Adrian couldn’t help mirroring his brother’s smile. Sean’s eagerness on his behalf was infectious. “Yeah, he’s cute.”
“You gonna ask him out?”
A sudden tension drew Adrian’s shoulders upward. If he could only bring himself to lie, Sean would go away happy, and Adrian would be left in peace. But he couldn’t do it. Lying just wasn’t in his nature. “I doubt it.”
Sean wrinkled his nose. “Why not?”
“It wouldn’t work, that’s all.”
“Again I say, why not?”
Yes, Adrian. Why not?
He tuned out the inner voice which prodded him now and then to expand his scope of experience. It rarely worked out for the best. Sometimes, yes. Like when he’d finally gone to bed with Christian and discovered sex for the first time. But the tempting whispers had hurt him more often than not, and he’d sworn to himself that he wouldn’t listen anymore.
“We’re too different,” Adrian answered, though he wasn’t sure if he was talking to Sean or himself. “We wouldn’t have anything to talk about.”
Sean made a rude noise. “Bad excuse.”
Sighing, Adrian rested his head in his hands. “Sean, come on—”
Adrian looked up, surprised at the heat in Sean’s voice. The spark in Sean’s eyes matched the expression on his face. It made Adrian feel unaccountably ashamed. “Sean—”
“Look, you’re always like this. Always so damn careful.” Sean jabbed a finger at the computer screen. “Let me tell you something. If you don’t loosen up a little bit, you’re gonna careful yourself into dying alone.”
Anger swelled in Adrian’s gut. Years of hard-won control kicked in before the unwelcome emotion could even raise his heart rate. He arched a cool eyebrow. “I’m only twenty-one, Sean. It’s a little early to be condemning me to a lifetime of loneliness, isn’t it?”
Sean shook his head. “Just ask the guy out, Adrian. What’s the worst that could happen?”
The memory of Adrian’s last date, just over five months ago, flashed into his mind. The boy had called him a frigid, self-loathing emo fag before stalking out and leaving him alone at a club in Raleigh with no ride back to school and not enough cash for a thirty-mile cab fare. He hadn’t even known about Adrian’s abilities. That particular rejection was based purely on Adrian’s sparkling personality.
Adrian elected not to mention the incident, since Sean would only point out that he’d managed to get a ride to the bus station and catch a late bus back, and anyway such a thing wasn’t likely to happen again. “Okay, I’ll think about it.” Adrian heaved an exaggerated sigh. “You’re worse than Mom.”
Sean snickered. Their mother pestered Adrian for details of his nonexistent love life every time she talked to him. It irritated him on one level, because he wasn’t looking for a relationship and wished everyone would just leave him alone and let him concentrate on his studies. Deep inside, however, a part of him loved that his mother accepted his sexuality so completely.
When he’d first come out to his family in ninth grade, it hadn’t been that way. His announcement had torn open wounds everyone had believed healed. His mom had blamed his dad and Sam for Adrian’s “problem”, and Adrian had blamed himself for the renewed rift between his parents. The psychokinesis he’d worked so hard to gain control over had begun to leak through again. He’d lost sleep to endless nightmares and watched his family fall apart right before his eyes.
He still remembered the moment of crystal clarity which changed everything. At three in the morning one rainy Sunday in April, he’d woken his mother and told her that he was himself, that no one made him who and what he was, and that she could either accept him as he was or not, but he would no longer listen to her or anyone else—including himself—assign blame where there was none. He’d turned away from her stunned expression, gone back to his room and fallen into an exhausted and dreamless sleep. The next day, his mother had called his father and Sam to talk. There had been no more blame, no more nightmares, and now Adrian’s mother nagged him about his love life just like everyone else’s mom did. It was nice to have a bit of normality in his life.
He flexed his well-honed psychokinetic muscle to pull a Carolina mug across the room into his hand, just to remind himself how far from normal he really was.
“Hey. Okay there, bro?”
Shaking himself, Adrian nodded. “Fine. Just thinking.”
“Thinking about asking out Mr. Cute Theater Major?”
Adrian laughed at the hopeful gleam in Sean’s eyes. “Good grief, you’re relentless.”
“That’s what Coach Rodriguez says too.” Behind Sean, someone called something Adrian couldn’t hear through the dorm room door. Sean turned and yelled for whoever it was to wait just a minute, then faced Adrian with an apologetic expression. “Some of the guys want me to go to another party with them.”
“So go on. You should be out having fun tonight, not sitting in your room videochatting with your stick-in-the-mud older brother.” Adrian grinned to show he was only kidding about the stick-in-the-mud part, even if he really wasn’t.
Sean narrowed his eyes, but didn’t argue. “Okay. Well, next time I talk to you I’d better hear about your date with Theater Guy.”
“Greg. We’ll see.” Adrian waved at his brother. “Night, Sean. Have fun.”
“Night.” Sean stood and leaned down into the field of view with his usual sunny smile. “Love you, bro.”
“Love you too.”
Sean’s image stilled on a fuzzy capture of him in motion, turning off the chat function as he straightened up. Adrian studied the blurred outline of Sean’s face, thinking about the things he’d said. As usually happened when Adrian thought about it, Sean’s words made sense. Would it really be so terrible to ask Greg out? Sure, it would hurt if Greg rejected him up front or said hateful things to him later. But he’d survived before. He could survive again, and come out the other side stronger for the experience.
It all sounded suspiciously like something the voice in Adrian’s head—his demon, he called it in his darker moods—would whisper to him. Maybe it was Sean’s evil twin.
Chuckling, Adrian switched off the videochat and clicked back to his paper. He could decide what to do about Greg later. Right now, he had work to do.