Wanna read the first chapter of Two Feet Under, my C.C. Hunter YA out Dec. 11th? That’s right, I’m giving you a sneak peek. I’m so excited about this book. I think I love this series so much because it reminds me of my Shadow Falls series. Remember Kylie’s experiences with the ghosts? Well, Riley has her own unique problems with them.
Yes, I really believe you guys are going to love Two Feet Under. Riley’s and Hayden’s story blew me away. I swear it almost wrote itself. The spookiness, the romance, the mystery, the danger, the emotion, it pulled me under. And I can’t wait for it to pull you under, too.
They are everywhere.
I turn off my car, white-knuckle the steering wheel, and lean forward to look out the windshield. I’ve never been around more than two at a time. But I haven’t been to a hospital since I discovered my “gift,” either.
Most of them follow my dad, the local mortician, home from work. For a while I thought that was the only way I could connect to them.Now I know better.
Fear slithers up my spine. What if they all come at me at once?
The heater in the floor of my old Mustang hasn’t stopped pushing warmth out, yet I can already feel it: their special kind of cold, a bone kind of cold. And their emotion. Their regrets, their fear, their loneliness, it’s all soaked up into my skin like dry earth soaks up water. It’s probably their ploy to ensure I help them.
Who needs other people’s feelings and problems crowding your chest? Believe me, I have plenty of my own.
Part of me wants to restart the car and drive away. Stay warm.Stay safe. Stay alive.
But I can’t leave.
Hayden’s in there. Or maybe I should call him Carter now. My grip on the steering wheel tightens, emotion makes my breath shaky.
I’m thankful he’s alive, but at the same time, I’m ready to kill him. How could he do this to me? If he takes that leap into the light, I’ll be responsible, and I won’t be able to forgive myself.
But how was I supposed to know that this time the ghost visiting me wasn’t dead? He was just comatose.
I pick up my phone and check my time. I don’t have a lot of it. Jacob’s picking me up in an hour to go to his lake house for a party. Truth? I don’t want to go now. But it’s too late to cancel. It’d be rude, and for me, being rude is like wearing shoes on the wrong feet. It doesn’t feel or fit right.
I reach for the door handle and give the spirits a glance and plan my route to avoid them as much as possible.Then I force myself to step out of the car. In spite of the winter wind tossing the long blond strands of hair in my face, in spite of the deadly cold, I’m sweating.
My gaze falls on one male spirit holding a motorcycle helmet, sitting on a bench in front of the ER where the ambulances unload the patients. Blood streams down his face. He’s having a hard time holding his head up. It keeps freakishly falling to his shoulder.
He appears lost and confused. So many of them are. They don’t realize they are dead. I hate when I have to be the one to spill the news.
Another man, barrel-chested and in his mid-fifties, paces back and forth at the hospital entrance. He’s shirtless and has those heart monitoring pads stuck to him, with the attached cords dangling off his chest. He’s cursing at the top of his lungs.
Dying sometimes brings out the worst in someone. But for this man, maybe it was too much anger that killed him. The dead aren’t always innocent. I’m just now learning that.
My thoughts go to Dad’s newest client at the funeral home, the prisoner’s spirit who’s been hanging around. The one I’m hoping will just figure out things for himself and take a flying leap into the hereafter. I don’t know anything about him, but his bottled-up rage tells me he wasn’t doing time for jaywalking.
Another spirit peers out a window from the third floor. I swear they’re all looking right at me.
I should be used to this. For a year and a half now I’ve been a ghost magnet. A go-to person when the dead need something fixed, or just someone to break the bad news. I handled it pretty well at first. Finding a sweet elderly man’s cat a home so he could pass on, informing family of a life insurance policy so they afford a funeral. Small stuff.
That’s the way it started. But the last fix wasn’t so small.It put me in the direct path of a serial rapist and murderer. Scary shit.
It’d be better if I knew what the heck I was doing, but apparently dealing with the dead doesn’t come with a rule book or guidelines. I’m improvising as I go, and the whole Hayden issue is proof that I may not be the right person for the job. Problem is, I don’t know where to go to resign my position. It’s not like I asked for it. One day I just woke up and dead people were hanging around.
I take a few steps away from my car and I see another one, an elderly woman with painted-on eyebrows that give her a clownish appearance. She’s dressed in a bright Pepto-Bismol pink velvet sweat suit. And she’s power walking through the parking lot, zipping her way toward me. A dead woman with a death wish. And I’m supposed to grant it.
I look away, pretend I don’t see her. Pretend I’m like everyone else. Clueless to the dead who linger among us.
I walk right past her.
“Hey.” She swings around. “My name’s Ethel Burstein. I’m looking for Fred. Can you help me find him?”
I play deaf. I can’t deal with her now. She falls back, but not before I feel the freezer-burn sensation that comes from being too close to them. I tell myself not to feel guilty. I have to get to Hayden.
Ever since the dark-haired, blue-eyed high school senior followed me home, I’ve been pushing him toward the light and away from my heart. Oh, it hurt, but I thought that was what my job was.Getting him to cross over.
Sure, I knew he was different.Just not that different.
He was young. He was hot. Not as cold.Not as faded.
He could kiss like the devil, had a shoulder perfect for leaning on, a charm that melted my willpower, and a grin that made the air I breathed sweeter. All that time, I beat myself up for falling for a dead person when I didn’t have to.
Shouldn’t he have somehow mentioned it in one of our long conversations? “Hey by the way, I’m not dead?”
I push open the hospital doors and rush to the elevators to the ICU. As I push the button, I realize I don’t have a clue what I’m going to say.
As I get off on the fifth floor and start to look around,an elderly man standing there says, “It’s not visiting hours.”
“When is…” Crap!
“You can come back in ten minutes,” the spirit says. Or not a spirit. He’s like Hayden. He’s not completely faded, not cold, not dead.
He must also be unconscious in the ICU.“The family waiting room is right there.”He motions down the hallway.
I move that way. He follows me. “I can’t find Ethel,” he says. “Can’t understand why she’s not here visiting me.”
Ethel? From the parking lot? This must be her Fred. My heart suddenly feels too heavy for my chest. See why I don’t love this gig?
His sadness fills my pores, and I say, “I’m sure if she could be here, she would.”
He smiles.“You’re right. We’ve been married sixty years. Good years. ”He fades away, looking content. It only soothes my ache a little.
I go into the family room. There are about five people in there. I realize a problem. What if someone else here is also waiting to see Hayden?
Three of the people appear to be together and are speaking Spanish. That probably rules them out—Hayden doesn’t speak Spanish. There’s one woman, standing by the door, who looks the right age to possibly be his mom.If that’s her, I might not get to talk to Hayden. To tell him to fight to stay alive.T o tell him how angry I am at him.
Then an older lady, sitting in the corner fidgeting with her purse strap, stands and joins the woman who could be Mrs. Carter.
“You know he did this to himself,” the older women says in a voice ringing part angry, part hurt.“Doctors told him he was killing himself, but no, he loved whiskey more than us.”
“He’s an alcoholic, Mom.”
“Yeah, and a lot of alcoholics get help.”
“And a lot don’t,” the daughter says. “You should’ve gotten angry at him long before this, but not now.”
They’re clearly not connected to Hayden, but their conversation hurts like a paper cut across the heart. Will I be here one day, thinking that same thing about Dad? He swears he’s not an alcoholic. But that’s not what I read in my mom’s old diary. And it’s not what I believe after finding his alcohol bottles in the dirty clothes hamper.
A few minutes later, everyone starts moving into the hall. I go with them.I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting the hospital only allows family members to visit ICU patients. I’m hoping to just sneak in.
I move in behind the two women, close enough that people will think I’m with them. It’s a big room, with a nurses’ station in the middle and smaller rooms lining the walls. Patient names are on placards beside the open doors. I keep walking until I see one that has Carter on it. I remember Kelsey, the one friend I’ve made since I moved to Catwalk, Texas, telling me that everyone at school called Hayden by his last name, Carter. Why had he told me his last name was Parker?
I stiffen my spine and walk into the room.
I come to a quick stop when I see him. The boy who lies in that bed looks deader than the ghost who fooled me into thinking he was. He’s thinner, his dark hair is too long, and a machine making a swishing sound is pushing air into his lungs. I watch his chest rise and fall and recall seeing his stepdad at the funeral home making funeral arrangements, thinking the end was inevitable.
Forcing myself to move closer to the bed, I’m shaking as I touch the back of his hand.“Hayden?”
I don’t know what I expect. For him to open his eyes, or the ghost I know to suddenly appear beside his own body? Neither happens. The only things in this room with me are cold sadness and a shell of what once was Hayden.
A terrible question hits. Is Hayden already gone? A sad sound leaves my lips. I pull in a deep breath and tell myself it isn’t so. Then I look back at his face. Tears fill my eyes.
“I’m really mad at you right now. You know why, too, don’t you? Why didn’t you tell me?”
I stand there, forcing myself to breathe as if my body forgot it’s on autopilot. I hear footsteps. I look at the door, but no one comes in.
I still stand frozen, my hand on his, listening to the eerie sound of the monitor marking his heartbeats.Thu…thump.Thu…thump. The noise bounces off the white walls.
My heart suddenly skips a beat, then I feel my heart fall into rhythm with his. “Look, Hayden, I don’t know if you can hear me. But please try. You need to fight. Fight to live. You can’t give up. Stay away from the light. Run from it. Live, Hayden. Please.Wake up. Open your eyes. At least show yourself to me. I want to see you.” My words shake. “I want to…dance with you again.”
“Who are you?” The voice comes from the doorway. The tone isn’t pure accusation, but suspicious enough that I want to scoot out the door.
Instead I get the feet-nailed-to-the-floor feeling. I can’t move.Footsteps enter.
Panic makes my mouth instantly dry. I turn and see a woman standing at my side, studying me…hard.
I know immediately that it’s Hayden’s mother. She has the dark chestnut hair and some of the same facial features as her son.
“Where do you know my son from?”
My tongue feels thick.
“I…I’m… My name’s Riley. I’m a friend from school.”
“I…I don’t recognize you,” she says.
“I’m…I’m sort of new.”
Mrs. Carter’s gaze falls to where I’m touching Hayden’s hand.
Afraid she thinks I’m crossing a line, I yank my hand away.
She blinks. Then her light green eyes get a teary sheen to them. “They only allow family in here.”
I don’t know what to say, so I don’t. Only when the silence grows louder than the hospital sounds do I force myself to speak. “I should…go.”
“No,” she says.“I didn’t mean…” She pulls in air, and even that sound expresses her pain. “He needs his friends.” There is so much love. Mother’s love in her voice, in her expression that a lump rises in my throat. Maybe because I no longer have a mom, seeing it, hearing it hurts twice as much.
My sinuses sting. I’m about to fall apart.
I run out of the room.
I’m crying by the time I reach my car. Crawling in the driver’s seat, I shiver, start the engine, and turn up the car’s heater.It spurts out cold air. “Damn!” I thump my palm against the steering wheel, feeling angry, feeling helpless, feeling way too much rage. And just like that, I know it’s not just my emotion.
I see ice crystals form on the inside of my windshield.Then from the corner of my eye, I see someone sitting in my passenger seat. He’s wearing orange. Prison garb.
Crap. What’s he doing here? How did he find me at the hospital?
I want to turn to him, scream for him to get lost, but if I do, he’ll know I can see him and then he’ll never leave me alone.
So I pretend I’m not cold. I pretend I’m not afraid. I pretend I’m not dying inside for Hayden.
Blinking, staring out the windshield, I pretend tears aren’t freezing to my cheeks.
Shifting the car in reverse, I pull out of the hospital parking lot. My hands tremble, so I grip the steering wheel tighter.
“I need you to help me!” the ex-con yells.
I manage not to flinch, at least not on the outside. Go away.Go away. Go away.
“Look at me, damn it! Look at me!”
I keep my gaze locked on the road. He slams a fist on my dashboard. If he wasn’t dead that’d hurt like hell.
“It isn’t fair,” he yells. “Listen to me!”
No, it isn’t fair. But I’m remembering what Hayden looked like, so withered, so gaunt. So dead. Then I recall the desperate love in Mrs. Carter’s eyes.
I keep driving. I turn onto the major street heading to my house.
“I said listen!” He leans so close, yells so loud, his voice hurts my ears. His cold burns my skin and turns the air so arctic it stings my throat and lungs.
Just a few more miles. I can do this. I can. How long does it take to get frostbite?
He reaches over and yanks my steering wheel. What the…?
Ghost aren’t supposed to be able to move things, but this one can. As hard as I try to regain control of the wheel, I can’t. He’s yanking it back and forth. Cars dart out of my way. Horns are blaring. Luckily, I don’t think any of the cars actually crash.
I go to slam on the brakes, but dead-prisoner guy jumps the console, sits his cold butt on top of me, kicks my foot off the brakes, and slams his on the gas. I have freezing pain coursing through me, but I manage to look around him just in time to see my car race across the median and veer right into oncoming traffic.
And leading that traffic is an eighteen-wheeler.
I, Riley Smith, at only seventeen, am going to die.
Let me know you preordered the book by leaving a comment. One person who leaves a comment will win a C.C. Hunter tote bag filled with SWAG. (Sorry this giveaway is for U.S. residents only. If you’re reading this on Goodreads, you must comment on my actual blog to enter.)
Wanna Meet Me?
Do you live in the Houston area? December 8, 2018, I’ll be at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonet, Houston, TX at 1:00 PM. I’ll be joined by Gerry Bartlett, author of Texas Lightning. Come on by. It’s going to be a blast! For more information go to: https://www.murderbooks.com/hours-and-location.
The winner of last week’s giveaway of a Mortician’s Daughter memory stick is Abby B. Congratulations! Email me at email@example.com with your postal address.