What do you do when you finally prove the existence of the otherworld, but the ghosts kick your ass?
For Trent Pielmeyer, the answer is run like hell—away from his hostile family, away from the disbelieving cops, and far, far, far away from anything that smacks of the supernatural. After seven years’ captivity in a whacked-out alternate dimension, he is so over legend tripping.
When Christophe Clavret spots Trent in a Portland bar, he detects a kindred spirit—another man attempting to outrun the darkness of his own soul. But despite their sizzling chemistry, Trent’s hatred of the uncanny makes Christophe hesitant to confide the truth: he’s a werewolf, one of a dwindling line, the victim of a genetic curse extending back to feudal Europe.
But dark forces are at work, threatening more than their growing love. If Christophe can’t win Trent’s trust, and if Trent can’t overcome his fear of the paranormal, the cost could be Trent’s freedom and Christophe’s humanity. Or it might be both their lives.
Available from Riptide Publishing: http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/wolfs-clothing-legend-tripping-novel
Sunlight. Damn, it was awesome. After seven years living only the hour between midnight and 1 a.m., Trent Pielmeyer didn’t think he’d ever get enough.
Every night since he’d gotten out of the private-care facility—fuck, just call it what it is: a loony bin—his recurring nightmare had driven him out of the house into the dark. He’d logged countless miles along the shore or through neighborhoods where houses stood shoulder to shoulder, but he always timed it so he’d catch the sunrise over the ocean. Then he’d run home with its warmth on his back and the streets of Newport brightening before him.
He slowed as he approached his family’s estate. Shit. His timing was off this morning. The sun hadn’t yet topped the evergreens that lined the property. The driveway was as murky as if it were still the middle of the night.
He jogged up and down in front of the gate, panting and sweaty.
Do it. Just do it. Sure, the shadows are really fricking dark, but they’re only trees. Half a mile to the house. Piece of cake. Now!
He sprinted for the mouth of the drive, his Nikes crunching in the gravel, but as soon as he got to the shadow of the first tree, he stalled.
Jesus, why couldn’t his inconsiderate ancestors have planted maples instead of evergreens?
He made two more abortive attempts, but it wasn’t until the sun cleared the treetops that he was able to force himself to run down the driveway. How many miles had he clocked this time? Twelve? Thirteen? Hell, he could run a half marathon, but he couldn’t sleep through the night without waking in a cold sweat, his throat raw from useless screams.
Trent slowed to a stop by the giant magnolia tree next to the koi pond. He could handle the magnolia—barely. Not a fir tree. Good job, ancestors. A few brown-edged petals clung to the chest-high canvas-shrouded object at the edge of the pond. He removed the stones weighing down the tarp and flipped it up, revealing the marble plinth underneath.
Trent McFadden Pielmeyer, Beloved Son, May 14, 1990 – October 17, 2009
Or was it technically a memorial, since his parents had had no body to bury?
Some people might wonder why his father hadn’t removed it. After all, Beloved Son was home again. Not dead. Not missing. Still gay, but, hey, can’t have everything.
Trent knew the truth, though. If his father had to spend money on something he considered outrageous—such as paying a crew for a whole day’s work just to remove one piece of marble—he might keel over on the spot. Forrest Pielmeyer might have more money than God—including a lot that should have been Trent’s by now—but he’d always be a frugal New England Yankee at heart. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
How many times had Trent heard that when he was growing up? Every time he’d wanted to do something that didn’t fit the Pielmeyer Way of Life—the perfect preppy image his father clung to like a life preserver from his yacht.
Trent peered at the sun. From the angle, he was late for breakfast. Again. He delayed another minute, closing his eyes and basking. Lizards totally have the right idea. Then he trudged up the vast slope of lawn and into the house.
The housekeeper, carrying the silver coffee service into the breakfast room, gave him her usual disapproving glare. Yeah, yeah. Get in line, sweetheart. Trent put on his best I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude and followed.
He settled at the table across from his mother, the sunlight playing off the crystal and silver and bone china. She glanced at him and then away.
“You’ll need to . . . freshen up soon, Trent. Deborah will arrive for your session at ten thirty.”
Deborah was the last of the lineup of therapists who had tag-teamed him since his return to Newport. All of them agreed he was either repressing memories of a traumatic captivity, or suffering from Stockholm syndrome and trying to protect his alleged kidnapper.
He couldn’t exactly confess what had really happened: See, there was this ghost war, and I got sucked into it. I’ve been appearing—or should I say disappearing—nightly as Danford Balch, frontier murderer and first man hanged in Oregon, for the last seven years.
That’d go over outstandingly well. They’d probably clap him back in the loony bin for life.
Other than the sheer unbelievability of the story, though, if he came clean about it, he’d implicate Logan Conner, his old roommate and best friend, who’d told Trent about the ghost war in the first place. Logan had been there that night, from slightly drunken beginning to horrifying end. But when the police had questioned Trent about his vanishing act, poking and prodding, looking for someone to pin the blame on, they’d never mentioned Logan as a “person of interest” in the case.
Trent hadn’t had a chance to talk to Logan before the Haunted to the Max medic had bundled him off to the ambulance, or afterward, when his family had descended like a plague of perfectly groomed locusts. Somehow, though, Logan must have found a way to keep himself out of the whole shit-storm, and Trent intended to keep it that way. After all, Logan had tried his damnedest to talk Trent out of doing what he did. It wasn’t his fault Trent had behaved like a fucking idiot.
Yeah, they were both better off with Trent insisting he couldn’t remember his supposed ordeal. Too bad it wasn’t true. How could he forget it when he relived it every fricking night in his dreams?
Trent sipped his coffee. Jesus, what he wouldn’t give for a nice heavy ceramic mug instead of the delicate china. He wanted something he could hold on to. Something weighty, that could anchor him to the world. Not something this fragile, something that could break and send him floating, adrift.
“Trent.” His father was apparently intent on smearing exactly one tablespoon of quince preserves on his toast. “It’s a bit morbid, don’t you think, to stare at your own headstone twice a day?”
Hunh. Guess dear ol’ Dad paid more attention to him than he thought. “I couldn’t see it if it wasn’t there.”
“It’s in a private spot, and the tarp is there for a reason. The stone can’t be seen, or wouldn’t be if you didn’t persist in uncovering it.”
“You know, anyone who knows you will figure you’re sparing the expense as usual. I mean, why undo something you’ll just have to do again sometime in the next seventy years or so?”
His father heaved a too-familiar sigh. “How many times have we discussed economies of scale? It’s inefficient to contract a single service of that sort. Better to wait until we have several similar tasks and put them out to bid at the same time.”
“Aren’t you afraid people might get the wrong idea—that you’re keeping it because you wish me under it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody thinks anything of the kind.”
I do. “Even if you can’t bring yourself to remove it, could you maybe zap the date of death?”
“That would mar the marble unnecessarily.”
“So what happens when I actually die? You gonna leave the 2009 date on there and add a fucking footnote?”
“That’s enough, young man,” his father boomed. “I will not have that sort of talk at the breakfast table.”
“Right. We save the really knotty problems for luncheon.”
His mother dropped her fork onto her plate with a clatter. “Excuse me. I have a . . .” She rose and left the room, her back as straight as the creases in her beige slacks.
His father balled up his napkin and threw it on the table. “See what you’ve done?”
“Me? You ever think leaving that memorial in place might bother Mom? It sure bothers the gardener. Every time he sees me, he makes the sign of the horns, like he’s warding off the evil eye.”
“He does no such thing.” His father retrieved his napkin and shook it out, settling it on his lap before reaching for his egg cup.
“He so does.”
Jesus, how much longer could he stand to live here? He’d remained holed up in the ancestral pile after he’d emerged from the loony bin because even though his parents didn’t particularly like him, they were undeniably real. The housekeeper and the gardener might stare at him in contempt or fear, but at least they could see him. That none of them tried to hang him every night? Bonus.
Besides, he didn’t have anywhere else to go.
He took a deep breath. Antagonizing his father, no matter how gratifying, wasn’t a brilliant idea, considering he needed his cooperation. But as Deborah frequently pointed out—although in much more scientific and PC terms—his impulse control was for shit.
“So, Dad. Have the lawyers made any progress getting me declared undead yet?”
“It’s a complicated process. The conditions your grandfather saw fit to impose—”
“What’s the big deal? The trust would have been mine absolutely when I turned twenty-five anyway.”
“Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Hurry?” Trent’s voice slid up half an octave on the word. “It’s been seven months. My birthday is this week, and I’ve got sh—stuff I want to do.” Like maybe move out of my ex-bedroom, aka the Blue Guest Room.
His father squinted at him over a forkful of three-minute egg. “You have no need of your trust fund at the moment. You’re living in this house. Eating our food.” He nodded at Trent’s T-shirt—yellow, with a sad-faced cartoon brontosaurus and the caption All my friends are dead. “The housekeeper bought a number of perfectly presentable outfits for you, so you have no need to continue dressing like a derelict.”
“That’s kind of my point. On this birthday, I’ll officially be twenty-seven. Don’t you think I’m a little old to have someone else dress me?” Trent had ignored the stack of junior executive outfits and chosen his own wardrobe from the thrift stores in North Providence, like any good ex-college student. “Isn’t it time for me to rise above parental handouts?”
“What do you imagine trust fund income is?”
Trent put his toast down and clenched his hands together in his lap. “I think it was Grandfather’s attempt to make sure I got an education that I chose for myself.”
“Well you’re not pursuing that at the moment, are you? As far as I can see, you’re not pursuing anything except the best way to embarrass me and distress your mother.”
“I’m trying to get it together.” He was. He really was. But while he was unable to escape the recurring nightmares, the lack of sleep was a real handicap to rational thought. Maybe if he could tell someone about them, share the experience, he could—
No. Safer to keep the truth under wraps. Safer for Logan. Safer for himself, if he wanted to avoid mental health arrest.
If he had his trust fund, though, he’d leave. Go back to school, get the gen. ed. stuff out of the way while he decided whether he could ever face the stage again.
That was the worst part about the ghost war experience. Clueless asshole that he’d been, he’d leaped into the role of Danford Balch as if he’d been making his Broadway debut, without realizing the contract had no opt out. It had been horrible and dehumanizing and terrifying while it was happening, and continued to rob him of his sleep seven months after his rescue. Worst of all, like seven years of aversion therapy, it had also robbed him of the thing that he’d loved most in the world—acting. Now, the very idea of auditioning for another play was enough to send him scurrying back to the safety of the loony bin.
But he had to start somewhere.
“When I head to school this fall, I’ll—”
“Where exactly were you planning to go?”
Trent blinked. “Uh . . . well I . . .” How stupid was it that he hadn’t thought about it? “I guess I assumed Portland State would let me reenroll. I mean . . . unless their requirements have changed in the last seven years. I should—”
“Do you seriously imagine we’d allow you to return to Oregon after this whole escapade?”
Trent frowned. “‘Escapade’? You make it sound like it’s something I did for fun.”
“Wasn’t it? You refuse to divulge the details, name your accomplices—”
“‘Accomplices’?” Dread pooled in Trent’s belly. Don’t mention Logan, not when they’re still searching for someone to blame. “I told you, it was all me.”
“You were obviously somewhere, Trent. And under the terms of your grandfather’s trust, you’re not owed a penny if you’ve committed any crime greater than a misdemeanor.”
He’d been in Forest Park after hours—a violation of a city ordinance, but surely that wasn’t enough to rob him of his inheritance. “I haven’t—”
“Until the authorities are satisfied that you didn’t engineer your own disappearance in an attempt to extort more money from this family, the trust will remain precisely where it is. Invested under my name.”
Trent jumped to his feet, and his chair toppled over in a crash of oak on marble. “Did you ever get a ransom demand? A single hint that I was trying to scam you? Jesus fuck, Dad.”
“Trent! If you can’t moderate your language, you may leave the room.”
“Excellent idea.” I’ll leave the room. I’ll leave the house. I’ll leave the whole damned state! He stalked out into the foyer and ran up the staircase, his father’s voice echoing behind him.
“You want to know when I’ll take down that memorial? When I’m convinced my son isn’t dead to me!”
Trent stumbled on the last step. Jesus.
His therapist thought he was shielding his kidnapper; the police thought he was covering for an accomplice; and his own father thought he’d kidnapped himself for some never-demanded ransom.
The worst part was, he couldn’t tell any of them the truth. How could he convince them that a cheesy paranormal investigation show had gotten it exactly right? Nobody would buy anything that unbelievable.
Except for one person. Logan.
Trent’s birthday was on Friday—he wasn’t sure if it counted as the twentieth or the twenty-seventh, and no way was he celebrating it alone except for his parents and one of the housekeeper’s heavy cakes.
Damn it, he’d spend the day in Portland with Logan, the only person on the planet who knew he wasn’t insane, hallucinatory, or a goddamn fucking criminal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
E.J. Russell holds a BA and an MFA in theater, so naturally she’s spent the last three decades as a financial manager, database designer, and business-intelligence consultant. After her twin sons left for college and she no longer spent half her waking hours ferrying them to dance class, she returned to her childhood love of writing fiction. Now she wonders why she ever thought an empty nest meant leisure.
E.J. lives in rural Oregon with her curmudgeonly husband, the only man on the planet who cares less about sports than she does. She enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
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