He felt something, *someone* watching him as he climbed the front steps. He reached for the front door. It opened before he could turn the knob. Who he saw standing before him couldn't be. Dark-haired and beautiful, she looked as if she had been expecting him. Was that possible?
"Hello," he said with a smile. "I'm Reade Andrews. I'm sorry to bother you, but…"
"You aren't. I'm Allison. Would you like to come in?"
A shocking invitation. Not at all what he'd expected. He smiled and walked inside, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings.
She watched him, a smile playing across her lips. "I don't usually have visitors. I prefer to be alone. People make me uncomfortable. I think I'm actually afraid of them."
"Social anxiety disorder, I guess. I feel unsettled with people."
She appeared to think about it for a moment. "No, just in the past few months. I used to be fine. I don't quite know what happened."
"I never leave."
"The house. It's the only place I feel safe, so I never leave."
Incredible. Reade Andrews had come across a lot of things, but nothing like her. It had all just been stories and speculation. Mystery and conjecture. Until now. He extended his hand, and incredibly, she took it. Her soft, warm hand grasped his.
"I don't scare you?" he asked.
"No. It's strange, isn't it?"
Not if you knew who I was. Or who you are.
"Well, I 8am* a nice guy." He smiled.
She laughed. "Would you like some tea?"
He cocked his head. Really? "Tea?"
And that was the beginning.
Reade visited Allison nearly every day. She always greeted him with a glowing smile and a hug. They spent hours laughing, touching like two people truly connected while they discussed a million different things. All but one.
The house had been reported by concerned neighbors. Reade had been assigned to investigate. The reason he had come here in the first place. He had never imagined the outcome, would have never believed the connection. How was it possible to have emotions this strong? To feel this deeply?
Following an afternoon with Allison, Read entered his office. His partner approached him.
"Hey, how's the investigation coming on the Winterly place?"
He knew it would happen. Jake would eventually want a report.
"It's been weeks now, Reade. What's going on? Have you found anything?"
What could he say? He knew what the truth would mean. And he couldn't bear it.
"I have to tell you something, Jake. You won't believe it. I don't believe it." He hesitated, fear gnawing at his gut. "You know the girl I told you about? The one I've been seeing?"
Jake nodded. "Yeah, the one you're falling for. What about her? What's this got to do with the investigation?"
"She lives in the house."
"The Winterly house."
"Reade, no one lives there, the owner committed suicide months ago. That's the point. It's supposed to be haunted."
Reade stared blankly at Jake.
"She's there, Jake. Allison Winterly."
Jake shrugged. "Okay, we suspected that. What's the probem? Tell her it's time to go find the light or whatever it is they do."
"Jake, you don't understand. She's like nothing we've ever encountered. She's real. She's…"
Jake stared at him. "You can't be serious. Tell me you're screwing with me, Reade."
Reade stared, shaking his head. What could he say without sounding insane?
"She's beautiful. She's kind. She's…"
"An *apparition*. And you're supposed to get rid of her. She doesn't belong there anymore."
"I can't do it. I can't make her go. I…"
"Are you out of your mind? She's dead, Reade. A ghost. A ghost who freaks out the neighbors by turning the lights on at night, looking out the windows."
"She's more than that. She's…tangible. I see her. I feel her."
"My God. You've lost it. I know in our business we see things, see shadows, hear stuff. But Reade, we don't actually see ghosts. And we sure as hell don't fall in love with them. Get rid of her."
"She doesn't know she's dead. She thinks she's alive and well, and everything is normal. I can't tell her. I can't lose her, Jake. The connection is like nothing I've ever felt. It's real."
"We're in business to investigate the paranormal and help people get rid of spirits. That's our job. It's ridiculous to even consider this. We have a reputation, Reade. Now go back there and tell her she has to go, so her father can sell the house." He glared at Reade. "Or I will."
Reade knew he sounded insane. For years, he and Jake had gone into dwellings thought to be haunted, believed to be inhabited by earthbound spirits. They communicated by EVPs, EMFs, knocks, bangs, and odd noises in the dark. And they chased those spirits away. No one had ever spoken clearly to either of them, no one had appeared in a solid, human form, and no one had ever touched them lovingly with warm hands. It was impossible. Wasn't it?
Reade drove back to the Winterly house and watched it from the street as the curtains fluttered. He had held her. He had kissed her. And it was *real*.
Watching the lights come on, sadness and desperation washed over him. How could he possibly tell her she had to leave, to enter some strange, unknown realm awaiting her somewhere? She wouldn't understand. And he couldn't live without her.
Only one answer, one way they could be together. The same way *she* had come to be this way.
He pulled his car into the garage and closed the door, engine still idling, and breathed deeply. Allison appeared with the same beautiful, glowing smile as always, totally oblivious to his intentions, totally immune to the fumes. She climbed in beside him, and he took her hand.
"Allison, there's something I haven't told you…"