On March twelfth, Matt Alexander died in a freak accident, when his girlfriend Sheila—or was it Susan?—found, in his car, a red G-string, which unfortunately didn’t belong to her. After a breathless tirade where she called him every foul name known to man—or more precisely woman—she angrily flung the panties in his face. For a split second the flimsy garment obstructed his vision, and Matt unwittingly slammed his car into an eighteen-wheeler.
Needless to say, he was pretty pissed when he arrived at the Pearly Gates. The gall of that woman totaling his sleek, shiny new Porsche that way. And over a silly pair of panties no less. The fact that he was dead didn’t quite register yet. He was too busy mourning the loss of his wheels to pay any heed to the fact that he was as intangible as mist.
Only when he was greeted by a short, goofy-looking man wearing a white dress did he realize the bind he was in.
“Mr. Alexander, welcome to triage,” the man said, smiling like some cartoon character with more teeth than common sense.
“Triage? Is that slang for purgatory?”
The man quirked his two bushy, white brows. “No, triage is the stage before purgatory. It’s where we decide where you belong—” he gestured behind him and three golden doors appeared “—door number one, door number two or door number three.”
Matt’s head began to throb, or it would have if he still had a head. This little man was as confusing as hell. “Listen, Dopey, you may have eternity here, but I don’t. At least I think I don’t. Could you please cut to the chase?”
The man consulted a scroll, which he plucked out of thin air, and clicked his tongue disapprovingly. “It says here patience was never one of your virtues. Apparently, neither was respect of oneself and others, compassion and chastity.”
Matt snorted. “How about the thousand bucks I gave to Sun Youth last month?”
Dopey skewered him with a blistering glare. “That would be charity.”
Matt got his drift and chuckled proudly. If the truth be told, he was about as chaste as a nymphomaniac whore with too much time on her hands. Which was what had landed him in this whole sordid mess to begin with.
“So what do these doors stand for? Is Vanna waiting for me on the other side?”
Dopey flashed a mischievous grin. “Perhaps not Vanna, but a woman. Yes, most definitely a woman.”
Things were looking up. This whole death deal might not be so bad after all. “Is she hot?”
“That would be door number two. It’s very, very hot in there.”
The situation suddenly lost all comic appeal. That kind of heat he could do without. “So how is this game supposed to play out? Do I spin a wheel? Pick a door? Stand on my head and hum ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’?”
“Nothing that simple. In fact, it will probably be the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do.”
Matt scoffed. “There’s nothing I can’t accomplish if I set my mind to it. Anything to avoid door number two. Just name it.”
Dopey’s face gleamed until it became resplendent. With a swirl of his hand, he showed Matt what awaited him behind door number one. It was a woman, no doubt about that. A thin, mousy woman with horn-rimmed glasses, sitting in front of a roaring fire with her small, perky nose buried in a book.
Matt’s face fell. “She’s not my type.”
Dopey displayed a perfect row of pearl-white teeth. “She better be, Mr. Alexander, because you have exactly ten days to make her fall in love with you.”
Evelyn Hyde loved old books. She loved the smell of timeworn leather, the feel of crinkled yellowing paper beneath her fingertips, the crackling sound they made each time she turned a page. Everything about those timeless classics—penned in times of war, famine, oppression or plainly simpler eras when basic values actually mattered—fascinated her and left her breathless. She could lose herself in a book for days, thinking of nothing else but flipping to the next scene or chapter. These enduring tales inspired her, made her believe some things truly were meant to last forever.
She settled in her favorite recliner before the fireplace in the modest New England cottage she’d inherited from her parents, preparing to be swept away by her latest find—a wonderful first edition of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Being a librarian definitely had its perks. Over the years she’d developed some pretty impressive contacts as far as used books were concerned, and this baby had all but fallen into her lap.
She’d barely read three pages when the strangest feeling came upon her. The feeling that she was no longer alone. Her gaze quickly scanned the room, and—as crazy as it sounded—she half expected to find someone sitting on the couch across from her. Of course, there was no one there and she shook her head in self-reproach, returning her attention to her book.
The bizarre sensation, however, did not abate. She felt…watched.
Evelyn laughed at her silliness. She was just shy of her thirtieth birthday—far too young to be going senile. She’d read stories about women who lived alone. Women who grew eccentric as the years passed and eventually acquired a dozen or so cats to soothe their solitude. Ms. Delaney, who lived down the street from her, was a prime example. The sweet, plump spinster had the most unsettling habit of talking to people who weren’t there.
Well, she was nothing like her neighbor or any of the women she’d read about. Yes, she lived alone, but she did not own a cat and she most definitely was not lonely. Not with all these fascinating characters to keep her entertained night after night.
She managed to read a few more pages of Jane’s riveting plight when she experienced an inexplicable tingle at the nape of her neck, like the cool kiss of a ghost. She shuddered and flung a furtive glance over her shoulder.
Get a grip. You’re far too pragmatic to start believing in ghosts.
The fire flickered, causing eerie shadows to skip across the walls. The shadows suddenly merged, swaying to some inaudible tune, as if performing a sensual dance. Then, for a moment ever so brief, she could’ve sworn they formed the shape of a man.
And that’s when Evelyn decided the time had probably come for her to adopt some cats.
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