The Cloak's Shadow
Zander wants two things: to kick ass at the new job she moved halfway across the country for, and for her family to stop trying to convince her of spooky happenings back home—they can't honestly expect her to believe ghosts are real. Oh, and a date with the hot guy she met last Friday would be pretty sweet, too.
When Callum's new-found peace-and-quiet around Zander leads the Shadow to a new target--Zander's younger sister--Callum must risk his budding relationship with Zander, and the freedom her presence in his life provides, to tell her the truth: he's a Medium, and she's a Cloak who can close the spiritual veil. All he can do is hope the traits he's quickly fallen in love with--her drive and no-B.S. attitude--won't keep her from seeing she's the only one who can stop the Shadow from possessing its living victims... like her sister...
And like him.
Release date: October 6, 2020
Publisher: Done Playing Press
Print pages: 337
Content advisory: Contains brief depictions of abuse, mental illness, and brief discussion of spousal abuse and divorce
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The Cloak's Shadow
Holy heaven and hell, there was nothing better than the blaring cacophony of a bar on a Friday night.
The music wasn’t his style—too pop-ish, too upbeat—and the clientele were all very letting-loose-at-the-end-of-a-long-week-at-the-office, not freelancer-hustle types like him, but Callum didn’t care. The music and the people were ancillary to the real reason he was there. He threw back the last of his beer before letting his eyes scan the room. The sofas and club chairs that dotted the wide, dim space were all in various degrees of use. In fact, the only empty chairs were single spares at otherwise full tables. Even all the stools at the bar where he was sitting were taken. A busy night meant it was loud enough he could actually hear himself think—and that was what had his ass planted on this barstool in a bar he wouldn’t have been caught dead in otherwise.
It was amazing how the sounds of hundreds of shouted conversations about Sherry in Accounting, and Greg in Product Management, or about Ted’s upcoming vacation, were so much easier to ignore than the conversations that were normally had at him.
“At him” being the operative part of that statement. They were all one-sided conversations lobbed at him without any concern or care over whether he wanted to be involved.
Which he didn’t.
The bartender caught his eye and ticked a nod.
Callum glanced at the empty bottle of beer in his hand. He could do the reasonable thing and close his tab now—or he could have another. He lifted his empty and returned the bartender's nod.
The music, which had been a little too loud to be comfortable—perfect as far as Callum was concerned—reduced in volume by some decibels.
“So I have a theory.”
Callum turned toward the voice on reflex, only to turn right back again. Damn it. He’d just made eye contact.
“See, and that just proves it,” the guy said. “Okay, maybe it doesn’t prove it, but it’s definitely a tick in the positive evidence column.”
Callum gave a smile to the bartender as she swapped his empty for a fresh bottle. “Thanks.” He’d have to remember to tip her well. She hadn’t left him dry since he’d bellied up. “Hey, what’s up with the music?”
“They’re having some issue with the speakers over the bar,” the bartender replied with a headshake eye-roll combo like this wasn’t the first time. “But the guy is here now to fix it so it should be back up in a few.” Then she swept away before Callum could respond, on to the next customer.
“So my sister is over there,” the guy went on. “And if my theory is right, you should go talk to her.”
Callum looked around the bar—at anything other than the guy to his left. He had come here with the expressed purpose of not having this conversation—of not having any conversation! He just had to hold out long enough for the music volume to pick up again. He could do this. He’d done it before.
“She’s cute,” the guy said. “You’ll like her. And you seem cool. I’d be okay if she hooked up with you.”
Okay, what the hell? As Callum went to give a serious are-you-kidding-me look, he saw the guy reach to slap Callum on the shoulder. Instead, his hand passed right through him, sending a sensation like gently electrified water running down Callum’s left side. His lungs constricted, his breath slowly pushing through his lips. He sucked it back again on an inhale he had to focus to keep steady.
“Shit. I’m still not used to that,” the guy said. “Am I permeable, or is everything else permeable?”
Nothing is permeable! Callum wanted to shout as soon as he got his breath back. You’re dead! You’re a ghost, you stupid asshole! A. Ghost.
He looked up, ready to give the guy a quiet but solid “fuck you”—but he was gone. Gone like he’d never been there at all.
The music volume flared and Callum sighed in relief. That guy might have disappeared, but he wouldn’t be the last, and it was so much easier to ignore a spirit when you couldn’t hear them talking.
“Just a sparkling water.”
Out of the newly refreshed din of the bar and Callum’s own thoughts, a woman’s voice came through loud and clear—louder and clearer than even the spirit who’d just been talking to him inches away. He turned toward the voice but an office-type guy blocked his view when he slid between Callum’s stool and the next.
"Aw, come on!" the guy urged. "One more. What could it hurt?"
"It won't hurt anything," the woman said. Her voice was grounded and real—not bubbly, or flirty. "I just don't want another drink."
Callum turned around on his stool and leaned back against the bar to make a little space. He didn’t want to eavesdrop, but he didn’t want to lose his barstool either. So he sipped his beer and tried not to listen. Sort of.
"Fine," the guy said, almost like the woman’s choice to drink or not had anything to do with him. "But ya know, in Japan, it's considered rude to refuse a drink when you're out with your co-workers."
"Well thank God we're in New Orleans and not Tokyo, then," the woman replied.
Callum tried unsuccessfully to suppress a smirk, hiding his smile with a pull from his bottle. She’d said all of three sentences—and none of them to him—but he liked this chick already.
“I’m gonna go find the others,” the woman said, turning away from the bar—which gave Callum a front row seat when the guy turned and grabbed her by the arm.
“I think they all left,” he said. “But it’s cool. I’ll drive you home.”
The woman shook her head and when she looked up, her eyes caught on Callum.
They were a bright, golden hazel, fringed with dark lashes below dark, arched brows. Her hair was almost black in the dim lights of the bar and cut pixie short, showing off a row of simple silver hoops in her ear and softly chiseled cheekbones.
She was incredible looking.
“Nah, it’s cool,” she said to the guy, deftly removing her arm from his grasp as she brought her phone up in front of her. “I’ll call a ride.”
"Don't be dumb," the guy said, sitting back on the barstool she’d just left and bracing his elbows against the bar, knees spread wide like he owned the damn place. "I'm not gonna let you pay for a ride home when I can drive you. Or you can crash at my place, if that's easier."
Holy shit. Who did this guy think he was kidding?
"Thanks, but I'll be fine," she replied as she reached around him and took her glass of clear bubbly from the bar.
"Suit yourself," the guy replied. "But hang here for a sec. I gotta take a piss."
Then he waltzed off and Callum tried not to notice her sigh of obvious relief as the woman took her seat at the bar again—which brought her right beside him.
"Is he pushy as hell, or is it just me?" she said.
It took Callum a second to realize she was talking to him. "Oh, he's a pushy asshole," he agreed as soon as he put it together.
She shook her head before taking a pull from the neon pink straw in her glass.
Damn. Who knew sparkling water could look so enticing?
She swallowed. "I work with the dude, so I can't even be a bitch."
"That's rough. Want to act like we know each other?" Callum offered. He dared to look at her properly again. Her lips were full and perfectly bowed as she took another sip. She was straight up beautiful, but he wasn't going to hit on her. It was easy to see she'd had enough of that tonight.
He read question in her eyes but a smile on her fucking perfect mouth.
"We could be deep in a we-went-to-high-school-together conversation when he gets back," Callum explained with a shrug. "Makes it easy to cold shoulder him."
It wouldn't be the first time he’d pretended to be dating a stranger at a bar so a guy would leave them alone. Hell, he'd once saved another dude from a date-gone-wrong.
Her brows rose above her golden-green eyes like that was an idea she'd never considered. "Make it college, and you were my boyfriend?"
"Even better," Callum agreed easily. Was she hitting on him? "I'm Callum, by the way."
"Zander," she replied.
Callum pushed his hair out of his eyes. "So did the rest of your group really leave?”
Zander threw a glance around the bar before her eyes swung back to him. "Looks that way, yeah."
What a bunch of jerks.
"I'm new in the office—hell, I’m new in the city,” she added, like that was a reasonable excuse. “They probably forgot about me.”
“New in the city, huh? Where’d you move here from?”
Callum nearly choked on his drink. She’d moved all the way here from Seattle? What a badass.
"Well if you want to bail before he gets back, now is the time," he said. "Ride shares are usually pretty quick this time of night."
"No need," Zander replied. "He doesn't know it, but I live just up the street—too close to warrant a cab."
"But too far to walk without him seeing you when he gets outside?"
"Exactly," she agreed, glancing up like she was on the lookout for the very guy they were talking about. "And, frankly, I'd rather he not know where I live."
"Here he comes," she said quickly.
"Introduce me, then follow my lead?" Callum replied.
Zander’s smile was accompanied by a nod.
"Hey. You change your mind about that drink?" the guy said as he sidled up beside her and plucked his own beer from the bar.
"Not at all," Zander replied. "But it was crazy—when you left, I realized we were right next to my ex from undergrad this whole time!"
The guy followed her line of sight and next thing Callum knew, he was ticking a nod at the guy and giving his best I-wake-up-like-this finger comb through his long, undercut hair. He let his voice drop to its lowest register and held out his hand for a shake. "Hey, my man. Nice to meet ya. I'm Callum. You are?"
"Blane," the guy replied. He was average looking. Probably in his late twenties/early thirties. Preppy.
"Cool," Callum replied. "I was just telling Zander I didn't realize she'd moved to NOLA." He looked around Blane-The-Asshole so he could see Zander. "We should hang out. It'd be great to catch up." He threw a wink in for good measure.
Which Zander didn't miss.
She licked her lips and gave a nod. "Yeah, I'd like that. So what have you been doing since undergrad?"
"Web design," Callum answered truthfully—no need to fabricate what he did for a living. "Freelancing mostly. I have a house not far from here."
"Are you single?" Zander asked.
Damn, this girl was good. Callum gave a nod with a smile. "No girlfriend, no. What about you?"
"Single as fuck," she said. "Which is fine."
"You did always like your independence," Callum replied like he knew a damn thing about her.
But Zander paused with a smirk like he'd hit the nail on the head.
Blane drained the last of his beer and turned to Zander. "You ready to go?" he said. "I'll drive you home."
"I'm good," Zander replied. "I think I'll hang here a while longer."
"Then how are you gonna get home?" Blane argued.
"I'll call a cab, like I said," Zander explained like he was a child who wasn't listening. Which, in a way, he was.
"Or I'll get you home," Callum added, playing up the we-go-way-back vibes.
"See?" Zander said, her shrug light but her tone pointed. "I'll be good. Don't stay on my account."
Blane paid his tab and left after one more attempt to get Zander to crash at his place. Callum relished the crestfallen sag of his shoulders as he said his goodbye. It was just too satisfying to see a pushy jerk get denied.
Zander sat facing Callum, still as a statue as Blane crossed the bar behind her and made his way outside.
"He's gone," Callum said as he watched the door close.
Zander released a sigh of relief—her second of the night. She laughed, first under her breath, then with more heart. "Thanks for the rescue."
Callum shrugged. "Not a problem." He downed the last of his beer. "Wait ten minutes, then head out?"
Zander gave a nod as she pulled a sip from that neon pink straw again, her pink lips a perfect complement, her dark hair a perfect contrast to the color.
He needed to say something or this was about to get really awkward.
Just then, a guitar riff caught his attention. It was over the speakers, nothing live, but it made him smile all the same.
What a weird song for them to play in this place, he thought.
Then the dance beat sliced through it and he realized it was a pop rip-off version of his favorite tune. He couldn’t help the groan of annoyed disappointment that rattled up his throat.
He stopped when he realized Zander was doing the very same thing.
They looked at one another and laughed.
“I fucking hate it when they do that,” she complained.
Callum lifted his bottle of beer. “Amen.”
“Have you seen them live?” she asked.
Had he seen them live? Um, of course he had!
Wait, had she?
Ten minutes stretched to thirty, then forty-five—until Zander yawned and Callum realized how late it was. The bar was quieting down, which was his cue to go home.
"Which way are you heading?" he asked as they stepped out onto the sidewalk five minutes and a paid tab later.
"That way," Zander replied with a tick of a nod to the left. She pulled the front of her black, figure-grazing t-shirt away from her skin with a grimace. "Does the humidity ever ease up here?"
Callum chuckled under his breath. "Not really, no. I'm going that way, too. Mind if I walk with you?" It was mostly true.
"Not at all," Zander replied as she hitched her black leather purse up onto her shoulder.
They walked down the sidewalk for a time in companionable silence away from the bustle of the bars and restaurants.
“Do you live in the French Quarter?” Zander asked after a minute or two, motioning ahead of them, out of the downtown area.
“Ah, no,” Callum replied, then ticked a nod toward the river. “I live over that way.”
It was then he realized it: the only sounds were the cars going by on the road and the occasional rustle of the leaves in the trees.
Other than those city noises, however, it was quiet. Like, completely quiet.
Callum's mind stopped, even while his feet kept moving. He looked around. He could hear the sound of his own breath, the sound of Zander’s shoes on the pavement.
He could see the buildings, the trees, the sidewalk, the streetlamps. He could see her. And the people across the street.
And that was it.
Nobody staring at him. Nobody asking him questions or talking at him.
It was a goddamned miracle.
He looked at Zander. She was the miracle. He hadn’t seen a single spirit since the moment she appeared beside him in that bar.
"Well, my apartment is just up there," Zander said, motioning to an old, brick building coming up on their right and slowing her stride.
It was a second or two before Callum managed to wipe what he felt sure was a zen-as-hell expression off his face.
She smiled, turning toward him with her brow quirking in question before her gaze traveled him down and back up. "Do you...want to come up?"
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