Whispering Lake

Whispering Lake was picked up by Hearts on Fire Press on August 15, 2008, as an e-book.  As of November 15th, it is now available on Amazon Kindle, Coffee Time Romance, and Hearts on Fire Books as an e-book; as well as being available on Amazon as a paperback!  Yes, you heard me … it’s finally in paperback!

Here is an excerpt …

 

Chapter One

            It was mid-October and Cassandra Morgan was admiring the changing leaves outside of her bedroom window as she packed her suitcase.  Her friends had decided to take a trip to Whispering Lake, North Carolina.  Cassie was twenty-one and in college, but she still lived at home. Blue Ridge State University was thirty minutes away from her hometown and her parents wouldn’t pay for a dorm room.  They were still upset that she hadn’t decided to go to Oglethorpe, Rhodes College, or some other high priced university.  Her punishment was attending a college that could be paid for through scholarships and grants, which meant she had enough to attend the local state university.  She only had three semesters left before she graduated so she was trying to make the best of it.

            Cassie threw her favorite pink sweater and jeans into the suitcase and zipped it up.  She had already packed her toiletries, her i-pod and some magazines to look at during the trip to the lake in a smaller bag.  She glanced around her room one last time to make sure she hadn’t missed anything.  She caught her reflection in the mirror across the room and walked over to it.  Her hair was a mess as always.  The long chestnut waves hung down almost to her waist.  She had green eyes and a peaches and cream complexion.  The only thing she hated about herself was her freckles.  She was five-feet-two-inches tall with an hour glass figure.  Her hour glass was a little more pronounced than most with her thirty-six DD bust and wide hips.  She had a tiny waist, but her hips kept her firmly in a size eight.

Cassie turned around and headed toward the bedroom door.  She picked up her bags and started to leave when she felt a sudden chill in the air.  Looking over her shoulder, she saw her friend Matt sitting on her bed.  He looked gorgeous like he always did.  She guessed that was one of the perks of being a ghost, perpetual youth and good looks.

            Matthew Spencer had been about six years older than Cassie when he died, which made him twenty-seven years old for an eternity.  He had been dead for over fifty years.  Cassie had tried to get him to talk about his life many times.  Every now and then he would let something slip about his past, but other than his name and his age she didn’t know very much about him.  He had been a very nice looking guy, standing at over six feet tall and having a muscular build.  Matt had sandy blonde hair and sky blue eyes.  It had apparently been late in the day when he had died because he always had a five o’clock shadow on his jaw, which in Cassie’s opinion just made him even sexier.  Since Matt had first met her when she was about fifteen she was fairly certain that he saw her as more of a pesky sister than date material… not that they would be dating since he was dead and all.  Lord knew that she’d had her fair share of fantasies though.  She only hoped that she didn’t talk in her sleep!

            Ever since Cassie was a little girl, she had been able to see, speak to, and touch ghosts.  When she was little, her parents had just called them her imaginary friends.  When she had gotten older, she had learned that her ghostly friends needed to remain a secret.  Her parents had often looked at her with worried expressions when they caught her talking to a ghost.  To everyone else, it just looked like Cassie was having a conversation with herself… which isn’t a good thing if you want to stay out of the psychiatric ward.  It also made it rather difficult to have a boyfriend.

“Leaving without saying goodbye?”  Matt had a wounded expression on his face.    

“It’s easier to say goodbye when you’re here.  I thought you had forgotten that I was leaving today,” Cassie said with a grin.

Cassie put her bags down and walked over to Matt.  She sat in his lap and threw her arms around him in a big bear hug.  This was one of the times that Cassie didn’t mind her gift so much.  While she had trouble speaking with most living guys, she was able to be herself with Matt and could talk to him about anything.  They had been best friends since the day they met five years before. 

Cassie and Matt had gotten to know one another very well over the years.  They were so comfortable with each other that many mornings Cassie would wake up to find Matthew in bed with her.  He never did anything inappropriate, much to her chagrin.  While she knew they could never be together as a couple, she sometimes wished he would take advantage of her.  They hadn’t even shared so much as one kiss, not unless you counted a kiss on the cheek.

“I didn’t forget, but I had hoped you would change your mind.  I don’t like the idea of you being gone for a week,” Matt told her with a worried expression.

“You’re just afraid that you’ll miss me and be lonely.” Cassie looked at him and grinned.

“I already know that I’ll miss you, but that isn’t why I wish you would stay here.  I just have a bad feeling about this trip of yours.” Matt sighed and buried his face in her neck.  “I wish that I could go with you.”

Cassie sighed and snuggled closer to him. She would love nothing more than to have Matt with her over the next week, but they had both researched the matter extensively and hadn’t found a way for him to leave Ashton Grove.  Well, that wasn’t entirely true.  Cassie knew that she could bind Matt to her with magick, but she didn’t want to take away his free will.  What Cassie couldn’t figure out was what kept Matt in Ashton Grove.  He had told her on more than one occasion that he wasn’t from Ashton Grove and he hadn’t died there.  If he had been able to leave the place of his death, why was he stuck in Ashton Grove now?  It didn’t make any sense.

“I wish you could come with me too, but we haven’t been able to find anything on the subject of ghosts traveling from one place to another.  I know there has to be a way, but we’re out of time.  My friends are leaving in less than two hours.” 

Matt took Cassie’s hand in his.  He had grown very fond of her over the past few years and would hate for anything bad to happen to her.  When Matt had been alive, he’d had the ability to sense danger coming to those he cared about.  His ability seemed to have followed him into the after-life.  But what good was this gift if it didn’t tell him exactly what Cassie would be facing?  If he couldn’t protect the one person who had come to mean so much to him, what good was his gift?  If he were completely honest with himself, he would just admit that he loved her and be done with it.

There had been many nights that Matt had lain beside Cassie on her bed, just watching her sleep.  He would love to take her in his arms and kiss her senseless, but he knew they couldn’t have a future together.  She deserved someone alive that she could grow old with and have children with.  Matt was obviously not that guy.

Cassie kissed Matt on the cheek and stood up.  “I have to go.  I’ll miss you!”

“I’ll miss you too.  If I find a way out of Ashton Grove, I’ll come and find you.”

Cassie smiled at Matt one last time and picked up her bags.   She headed downstairs and sat her suitcase and small bag in the entry hall.  As she walked toward the kitchen, she could smell breakfast cooking.

            “Good morning, Mom,” Cassie said as she walked into the kitchen. She plopped down in her favorite spot at the kitchen table. Her mother brought pancakes and sausage over to her along with a glass of orange juice.  It smelled wonderful.

            “Good morning, sweetie. Are you all packed?” her mother asked.

“Yep, all set to go.  I’m meeting Kari at Amber’s house.  Amber said we could ride with her. She has a Ford Explorer so we’ll have more room in her car.”

 “Well, eat your breakfast. You don’t want to be hungry before you get there.”

 “I’ll be fine, Mom.” Just the same, Cassie tried to eat a little extra that morning just to make her mother happy.   Cassie was lucky enough to have a high metabolism so she never gained weight.  She could probably eat an entire cake and not gain a pound.

When Cassie was finished with her breakfast, she got up from the kitchen table and went to get her bags.  She loaded them into the trunk of her little blue VW Jetta and drove to Amber’s house. Small towns in Northeast Georgia tended to have winding roads, which meant that Cassie had a beautiful drive.  Cassie drove through the heart of Ashton Grove and looked at the beautiful old homes.  Every house in this area was at least fifty years old.  Every time Cassie drove through this part of town, she wondered if any of this had been around when Matt was alive.  She was really going to miss him!  There had seldom been a day in the last six years that they hadn’t been together.

Cassie pulled into Amber’s driveway and drove around to the back of the house.  Kari’s red Honda Del Sol was already parked beside the garage.  Cassie parked next to the Honda and got out of the car.  She pulled her bags out of the trunk and walked up the back stairs of Amber’s house.

Amber’s parents had died in a car accident a year ago.  She had inherited the house and their new Ford Explorer.  The house was beautiful.  It was a two-story red brick home built in the nineteen forties.  The inside was spectacular with hardwood floors, oriental carpets, stained glass windows in various locations throughout the house, and french doors.

“Hey guys!” Cassie called as she entered the house through the back door.

“Hey Cass!” Kari replied.  “All set for the trip?”

“You bet! It will be nice to get away from the house for a while,” Cassie said with a smile.

Kari Matthews was about four inches taller than Cassie and had medium length straight blonde hair and blue eyes.  Kari had a willow thin model’s figure. The girls had met in Ms. Robinson’s kindergarten room and had become fast friends.  No one had been able to tear them apart ever since. 

Kari was more popular than Cassie, especially with the guys, but that had never bothered Cassie.  As far as Kari was concerned, Cassie’s dating status and popularity rating, or rather lack-thereof, made her the perfect friend.  She could never be friends with someone she saw as competition.  Kari had always been one of those girls who always had to be the center of attention, especially when guys were around.  Even though she was about to graduate from college, she hadn’t changed much.

            Amber Tyler was about the same height as Kari, but she wore a size twelve while Kari wore mostly fours and a few sixes, not that she would admit to ever wearing a size six.  To Kari, a six was fat.  Amber had long red hair that frizzed if she didn’t straighten it and pretty green eyes.  She wasn’t what most would call beautiful, but she was pretty.  While she didn’t date as much as Kari did, she had been on her fair share of dates and had one or two serious boyfriends over the years. 

Amber had been friends with Kari and Cassie since she moved to Ashton Grove six years ago.  The three girls were almost inseparable.  If you saw Cassie at the mall, you were sure to see Kari and Amber as well.  Each of the young women had a special gift.  Cassie could see, touch, and speak to ghosts; Kari sometimes would see glimpses of the future through her dreams; and Amber was an empath, which meant she could feel other people’s emotions.  The three of them very seldom spoke of their unusual gifts unless they were alone.  Cassie and Kari were also Wiccans.  Amber knew of their beliefs, but no one else in town did.  In a small southern rural town, being anything other than Christian was a death sentence of sorts.  The south wasn’t considered the Bible belt for nothing.

Kari and Cassie were both solitary practitioners of Wicca, but that is where the similarities in their beliefs ended.  Cassie followed the Druidic tradition, based in nature and the elements, while Kari practiced the Dianic tradition, based more on feminism.  Both women cast spells, but Cassie only did so when she had to.  Cassie felt that the God and Goddess would want her to try and solve things on her own before asking for their help and wisdom.  Kari had a tendency to cast spells on a more regular basis as she liked to take the easy way out when possible.  The threefold law apparently didn’t mean much to her.

            The three women talked as they loaded Amber’s SUV with their bags.  They had a four hour drive to Whispering Lake from Ashton Grove, Georgia. Whispering Lake consisted of a fifty acre lake, about thirty cabins, a ten mile wooded hiking trail, and an assortment of activities and wildlife.  The lake was surrounded by mountains, which gave it a secluded feeling.  The interstate was a good hour away from the lake so it was a peaceful setting.  No horns honking, no cars speeding by … it was going to be a nice relaxing week.  The only thing that could have made it better would be Matt. 

Cassie really wished that he could have gone on the trip too.  It felt strange knowing he wouldn’t be by her side for the next even or eight days.  Whenever she needed an opinion on something, Matt was the one she asked.  If she needed help with a class project, she would ask Matt.  She relied on him a lot, but it was more than just that.  She felt truly comfortable with him and a special kinship.  If he were alive, she could easily see herself spending the rest of her life with him.

            Ashton Grove, Georgia, her hometown, only boasted a population of 875.  Cassie loved the quaint feel of small-town life, but she also enjoyed going to bigger cities like Atlanta or Knoxville when she had the opportunity.  The one downfall of being in a small town was not having a decent mall.  The Ashton Grove mall definitely could not compare to Phipps Plaza in Atlanta… and what girl didn’t love to shop?  Still, she was looking forward to their week at the lake.  It would be nice to get away from it all… well, all but Matt.  Cassie could tell she was going to have a hard time keeping him from her thoughts.

“What kind of activities did the brochure say they have at the lake?” Cassie knew that Amber would have practically memorized the brochure they received in the mail a few weeks before.  Amber had been so excited that she had talked of little else for the past week. 

            Amber smiled and started rattling off activities that would be available, “They have boating, fishing, hiking, and tennis.  It said they also have special activity nights in the main lodge, like karaoke night.”  Amber knew that Cassie loved to sing, but Cassie wasn’t sure she wanted to sing in front of everyone. Singing in front of her family or her closest friends was one thing, but to embarrass herself in front of complete strangers was another matter entirely.

            “Maybe we can go for a hike this afternoon. I bet the woods there are really pretty.”  Being a Druid meant that Cassie tried to spend as much time in nature as possible.  She always felt the most balanced after she had been in the woods or by a lake.  Being in the outdoors was very soothing to Cassie.

            “That sounds like a good idea to me. Do you know who you’re rooming with yet,” Amber asked.

            Cassie shook her head.  “No.  I just hope I end up with nice roommates. Or maybe even absent ones.”

            “At least the cabins each have two bedrooms.  I think I read that a few of the cabins had three or four bedrooms,” Amber told her.

            “I guess if I’m stuck with people I don’t know, I can hope for they are either quiet or will be out of the cabin a lot,” Cassie replied.

            “It’s too bad they ran out of three bedroom cabins before we made our reservations.  It would have been great if all three of us could have stayed together.”

            Cassie agreed.  She would have preferred staying with her two friends than staying with people she had never met.  She wasn’t shy.  Cassie just felt nervous around strangers.  She was always worried they would discover her unusual talent of talking to ghosts and would think she was a freak, or possibly schizophrenic.  It wouldn’t be the first time that someone suggested she ‘get help.’

            Amber turned the radio on and the three of them settled in for the four hour drive.  Kari was flipping through a magazine and Amber was concentrating on driving.  Cassie pulled out her i-pod and closed her eyes.  As she listened to Aimee Mann, Avenged Sevenfold, Green Day, and her other favorite artists, she thought of what this week could bring to her life.  When Cassie had called to reserve her room, she had been told that the only available room was in a four bedroom cabin.  The other three rooms had already been booked.  The lady said she couldn’t tell her who would be staying in the cabin with her, confidentiality or something like that.  Cassie just hoped they were nice.

–  –  –  –  –

Amber pulled the car to a stop in front of the lodge at Whispering Lake.  The three women got out of the car and gathered their belongings. They went into the lodge to get their cabin keys from the lodge manager.  Amber and Kari were sharing cabin number eleven.  Cassie was going to be staying in cabin number six with her  mystery roommates.

            As they walked toward their cabins, they planned on meeting for lunch in an hour at the lodge.  Cassie arrived at her cabin first.  She went up the steps and unlocked the door.  As she stepped inside, she found herself standing in a small living room with a fireplace, couch, coffee table and small TV.  A small kitchen was to their left and the bathroom was to the right. There was a bedroom off the kitchen, and three others off the living room.

            “Hello?  Is anyone home,” Cassie called as she closed the front door.

            Cassie didn’t get a response so she figured her cabin-mates were out. She would just have to find the empty room by process of elimination.  She started with the room off the kitchen, but saw a duffel bag   on the floor.  She went back to the living room and entered the first bedroom she came to.  She didn’t see a bag anywhere, but when she opened the dresser drawer she saw men’s clothing folded neatly.  At least she knew the gender of one of her roommates.

            As Cassie closed the bedroom door behind her, the front door opened and three guys walked in. Uh oh … this wasn’t looking good.  She was sharing a cabin with three men?  There had to be a mistake!  She could barely speak to men, much less live with three of them for a week!

            “Hi. I’m Michael.”  One of the guys stepped forward with his hand outstretched. 

Cassie reached over and shook his hand. “I’m Cassie.”

Michael hadn’t expected their fourth roommate to be a woman, but he wasn’t complaining.  She was beautiful! “These are my brothers, Cole and Gabriel.”

“It’s nice to meet all of you.  I wasn’t sure which room was vacant,” Cassie replied.

“Oh, here, let me help you with those.”  Michael reached over and took her bags from her. “The empty bedroom is back here.”  He walked toward the back of the cabin and pushed open the last bedroom door.  He walked in and set her bags on the bed. 

“I’ll let you unpack,” he said, backing toward the door.

After Michael left the room, Cassie closed the door behind him and leaned against it.  Whoa! Three gorgeous brothers all in one cabin… with her!  Each of them had been tall, almost as tall as Matt, and had coal black hair. Two of them had blue eyes and one had steel gray eyes.  She was so in trouble!  Cassie was usually tongue-tied and clumsy around cute guys and these three were gorgeous!  They looked like fallen angels with that thick, black, wavy hair.

On the other side of the door, all three brothers were looking at each other with dazed expressions.  Michael and Cole were twins.  They were both six-foot-one and were twenty-two years old, but they weren’t identical twins.  Cole had gray eyes while Michael’s were blue, and their noses were a little different too. 

Gabriel, at twenty-four, was the oldest and the tallest.  He was six-foot-two and very broad shouldered.  All three brothers worked out on a regular basis. 

Cole was still in college, but Michael and Gabriel had forgone college to work in their garage as mechanics.  Cole worked there part-time when he wasn’t in class.

The garage had been their dad’s, but not they each owned an equal share.  Cole planned on selling his share to his brothers once he was finished with college.  He could technically still keep his share and just work there on weekends, but he didn’t see the point.  His brothers would need the income from those hours more than he would.

            Michael was the first to speak. “Can I just say ‘Wow’!  She is hot!”

            Gabriel looked at his brother with disgust. “Is that all you can think of?  Did you not notice that she seemed a little nervous around us?  I’m betting the manager never told her she was staying with three guys.”

            Michael gave him a blank look. “Why would she be nervous about staying with us?”

            Gabriel looked at him. “I don’t know, maybe she’s heard of your reputation? Any woman with half a brain would be nervous to share a cabin with you!”

            Michael rolled his eyes. “Oh please. As if those women didn’t want to sleep with me!”

            Gabriel shook his head.  Michael was hopeless when it came to women.  He thought he was God’s gift to women.  Unfortunately, most women fell over themselves for a chance to date any of the brothers, so it was hard to convince Michael otherwise.  It would be nice if just once a woman actually told Michael no. 

Cole walked over to Cassie’s room and knocked on the door.  He heard a faint response that he took as consent to enter.  He opened the door and peeked in her room.  She was still unpacking her suitcase.

“When you’re done, would you like to see if they have anything left for lunch over at the lodge?  Or did you grab a bite to eat on the way here?”

            “No, I haven’t eaten yet.  Lunch sounds great,” Cassie said quietly.

            Cole smiled at her. “I’ll just be in the living room waiting for you.”

            When Cole left, Cassie smiled to herself.  He seemed like a nice guy.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so horrible sharing a cabin with the brothers after all.  They were definitely nice to look at, even if they weren’t Matt.  Cassie sighed to herself.  Was she ever going to get over Matt?  She knew that she couldn’t have a relationship with a dead guy, but she couldn’t seem to get him out of her mind.  Even when she had first seen her roommates, she had automatically compared them to Matt.  It was a habit she needed to break.

            Cassie put the last of her clothes away and left her bedroom.  Cole was talking to his brothers in the living room. “Are you ready?”

            “Sure.” Cole motioned for her to go ahead of him.

            “Aren’t your brothers coming too,” she asked.

            “No, they ate earlier.”

            They left the cabin and walked in companionable silence to the lodge.  When they reached the lodge, Cole held the door open for her.  Inside, Cassie could see a buffet set up for lunch.  She didn’t see Kari or Amber anywhere.  Cassie followed Cole over to the buffet and started fixing her plate.  She grabbed a sandwich and some chips and turned to search for a table.

 “Wait up. I’m almost done.” Cole said as he put a few cookies on his plate, to go with the two sandwiches and ton of chips already there.  They walked over to a table near the large picture window and sat down.  Cassie hadn’t expected for him to sit with her.  Most guys like Cole never gave her a second look.  Even the few who had, didn’t stick around once she started talking to ghosts.

            As they ate, Cole asked Cassie some basic questions… where was she from; was she in college; etc.  They found out that they both lived in Ashton Grove and went to the same college.  Cassie was a psychology student and Cole was studying biology so they didn’t have any classes together.  It was funny what a small world they lived in.  Imagine meeting people four hours away from home who lived in the same town.  Even though they had attended the same high school, Cassie didn’t remember seeing Michael or Cole before.  She wasn’t sure how she could have missed them!  Granted, they were a little older than her, but she still would have seen them in the halls.

            They ate the rest of their lunch in silence.  When they were done, Cassie’s friends walked in.  Cassie could tell that Kari was just dying to know who she was sitting with. Wait until they heard about her sleeping arrangements! She was never going to hear the end of this.

            Cole got up when he noticed her friends were approaching.  He didn’t want to intrude, but he definitely wanted to get to know Cassie better… just being near her made him feel more alive than he had all year.  The week was definitely starting to look up.

 “I’ll see you back at the cabin,” Cole said as he walked away.

            Kari and Amber sat down with wide eyes. It wasn’t exactly the norm for Cassie to hang out with hot guys. 

“Who was that and what did he mean he would see you at the cabin later?” Kari demanded.

            “Remember how I made my reservation a little late?  And the manager said I was sharing a cabin with three other people?  Well, Cole and his two brothers are those other people.”

            “Oh my god! You’re sharing a cabin with three guys?! Are they all that hot?” Kari was in complete shock, not to mention completely jealous.

            “Shh. Keep it down would you?! “

            Kari rolled her eyes. “Good grief Cassie. You’d think we lived in the dark ages or something. No one here could care less that you’re sharing a cabin with three guys.”

            Cassie knew that Kari was right, but being around Matt had rubbed off on her.  He had been born in a time when chivalry wasn’t dead.  He also had certain opinions of what men and women should and shouldn’t do before marriage.  Good thing he wasn’t here!

            They talked a bit more while Kari and Amber ate their lunch. When they were done, they went outside and decided to take a hike in the woods.  They passed by Cassie’s cabin on the way to the trail. Cole was sitting on the front porch and watched them start off down the trail.  The woods were really pretty and the girls walked in silence at first, just admiring the trees and wildlife.  They saw squirrels, raccoons and even a few deer.  Cassie felt completely at peace. 

            About thirty minutes into their hike, Kari decided to break the silence.  “Cass, can I ask you something?”

            “What is it Kari?”

            “As far as I know, you’ve never dated anyone seriously before.  Since you don’t have a boyfriend at the moment, are you going to take advantage of your current living arrangements,” Kari asked.

            Cassie stopped and looked at her friend. “What do you mean by that?”

            “Well, if I were the one in a cabin with three gorgeous guys, I think I’d be more than a little tempted to take at least one of them for a test drive.” Kari gave her a wicked grin.

            “Kari! I can’t believe you just said that!”

            “What? It’s true.  We’re adults and they’re adults. What’s the big deal,” Kari demanded.

            “The big deal is that I don’t sleep around,” Cassie told her indignantly.

            Kari snorted. “Far as I can tell, you don’t sleep with anyone period.”

            Cassie was blushing.  She had told her friends before how difficult it was to have a boyfriend when you had ghosts popping up at all hours of the day.  Kari had been snippy with her a lot lately.  She made it sound like it was a terrible thing to be a virgin.  Granted, Cassie didn’t know too many women her age that were still virgins, but that just made her unique.  Who was she kidding? It made her even more of a freak and she knew it.

            “So what if I haven’t?  You know how hard it is for me to date.  How many guys do you know that would be tolerant of me stopping to talk to ghosts at any given time? At least your gift is something you can keep hidden,” Cassie told Kari.

            Kari rolled her eyes at her. “Whatever, Cassie.  All I know is that if you don’t plan on taking advantage of that hunky guy you had lunch with, the least you could do is introduce me to him.”

            Kari stomped back down the trail.  Cassie looked at Amber. “What’s with her?”

            Amber shook her head. “I don’t know.  She’s been different this past year.  I think her popularity with the guys has gone to her head.”

            “I guess so.  We’d better catch up with her,” Cassie said as she followed in Kari’s wake.

            As Cassie started to walk away, Amber reached out and grabbed her arm. “Wait a minute, Cass.  About what Kari said…”

            “Don’t worry about it, Amber. So what if I’m going to graduate from college a virgin?”

            “I wanted you to know that I think that’s pretty wonderful actually.  My first time wasn’t so great.  If I had it all to do over again, I would have waited for someone more special.  You know, that one guy that you just can’t get out of your mind day or night,” Amber told her.

            Cassie smiled at her.  Unfortunately, she knew about that guy all too well… and he was a fifty year old ghost haunting her bedroom. “I know what you mean, Amber.  Thanks.”

            Amber smiled at Cassie and they start down the path after Kari.  They found her sitting on a log by the path.  Cassie went over to her and sat down on the log.

            “Kari, if you really want an introduction to the guys I’m staying with, that’s fine.  I don’t have a problem with that,” Cassie told her.

            “I should have known that you wouldn’t want at least one of them for yourself. What’s with you anyway?”

            “Nothing is with me. They are all really nice looking guys.  I’m just not up for a one week fling,” Cassie replied.

            “I think it would do wonders for you.  At the very least, you should try flirting with one of them.  You haven’t dated anyone in so long you’re probably rusty,” Kari said nastily.

            “Gee, thanks Kari.”

            “So … you said there were three of them.  Tell us about them,” Kari said.

            “Well, you saw Cole.  He’s the one that was having lunch with me.  His has a brother that looks like he’s probably his twin, except Michael has blue eyes.  Then there’s Gabriel.  I think he’s a little older.”

            “And out of the three of them, you like?”

            “I don’t know.  I don’t really know any of them that well yet.  They all seemed nice enough.  Cole was pretty great during lunch though.  He goes to Blue Ridge State too, but he’s about to graduate.”

            “Figures you would want Cole.” Kari pouted.

            “Kari, I didn’t say I wanted him.  I just said that he seems really nice,” Cassie told her.

            “Then you don’t care if I go for it? With Cole?”

            Cassie shook her head. “It’s not really up to me, Kari.  If he wants you, then by all means you can have him.”

            Kari got up from the log and started back to the cabins.  “Aren’t you and Amber coming?”

            “Actually, I think I’m going to stay here a little longer.”

            “Whatever. Coming Amber?”

            “Sure, Kari.” Amber turned to Cassie. “I’ll see you at dinner later.”

            “I’m just going to walk a little more.”

            Amber and Kari headed back down the trail.  Cassie got up from the log and kept walking deeper into the woods.  She was starting to feel unbalanced and being in nature always made her feel better.  Normally being around her friends made her happy, but Kari was getting meaner and meaner these days.  Cassie didn’t understand what was going on with her friend.

–  –  –  –  –

            Cole was sitting on the porch of the cabin when Kari and Amber walked by.  He wasn’t certain, but he would have sworn that Kari winked at him when she walked past.  What was that about? He had a feeling he hadn’t seen the last of her.  By now he was used to women coming on to him, but he hadn’t been on a date in a while.  Cassie was the first woman who had even sparked his interest this year.

He looked up the trail, but he didn’t see Cassie. Surely her friends hadn’t left her out there alone.  He waited a few minutes to see if she would follow.  When there was no sign of her after fifteen minutes, Cole started down the cabin steps and decided to go check on her. It would be getting dark soon.

He walked for almost an hour before he found her.  She was sitting on a rock by a spring with her knees drawn up to her chest.  Her hair was down and it was blowing in the breeze.  Her cheek rested on her knees and she had her eyes closed.  As he got closer, he could tell that she had been crying.  He felt an unexpected urge to comfort her.  The feeling surprised Cole.  He hadn’t wanted to comfort a woman in a long time… not since his girlfriend, April, had left.

             –  –  –  –  –

            Cassie wished more than anything that Matt were here with her.  What danger had he foreseen?  Did it have anything to do with Kari’s idea that Cassie should flirt with Cole, or was it something else entirely?  She knew of Matt’s ability to sense danger.  It had actually saved her more than once over the past few years.  She really missed him.  He always knew exactly what to say to make her feel better.

Cassie had walked a little further when she heard a noise to her right.  She looked over and saw a girl coming towards her.  Right away Cassie knew that the girl was a ghost.  They seemed to have a particular aura or something, not to mention that the air always felt a little cooler around them.

            “Hi,” Cassie said as the girl approached.

            “Hi.  I’m Sarah.”

            “It’s nice to meet you Sarah. I’m Cassie.”

            “I saw your friends leave. They were your friends, right,” the ghost asked.

            “Yes.”

            “Just wondering. That one girl seemed a little mean.”

            “She normally isn’t like that,” Cassie said, wondering why she was defending Kari.

            Sarah contemplated her for a minute.  “I know where there’s a stream nearby. Want to walk there? It’s really pretty.”

            “Sure. Lead the way.” Cassie followed Sarah further along the path.  About half a mile down the trail, she looked to her left and saw a beautiful stream with a large rock beside it.  She walked down to the stream and climbed up on the rock, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.  It was late afternoon and the sun was already starting to sink behind the mountains. The air had gotten quite a bit cooler than when she had started her hike.   

“What did you want to talk about,” Cassie asked.

            “Nothing in particular. It just get’s lonely sometimes. There aren’t too many people like you who can see me and hear me.”

            Cassie reached over and grabbed the girl’s hand. “Don’t forget that I feel you too.”

            Sarah looked shocked. “I haven’t been able to touch another person since I died. How did you do that?”

            “I’m not really sure. It’s just something I’ve always been able to do.  I haven’t talked to anyone in my family about it so as far as I know I’m the only one who can see, talk to, and touch spirits.  Y’all are just as real to me as my friends are.”

            Sarah looked thoughtful. “It must be strange, having ghosts walk up to you all the time.  How do you deal with something like that? Isn’t it hard keeping something like that a secret?”

            “It was at first. I’m used to it now.  It’s a little embarrassing if I’m in the mall or someplace crowded though. Then people think I’m talking to myself.  It’s definitely hard keeping it a secret.  Sometimes I would like nothing more than to have someone to share this with.  I have two friends who know about my ‘gift,’ but it would be nice if I could share it with my family or to have a boyfriend that would understand.”  Cassie looked at Sarah. “Actually, my best friend is a ghost. His name is Matt.  Right before you walked up to me, I was thinking how much I wish he were here.”

            Sarah grinned, “You don’t think your family would understand? You had to have received this gift from somewhere.”

            “I’ve often wondered about that.  I guess I’m just scared that if I tell my parents I see ghosts that they will have me locked away.”  Cassie sighed.  “May I ask you something personal?

“Sure.”

            “How long ago did you die?”

            “Three years ago.  It was fall when I came here with some friends.  We went hiking and it started to rain.  We had veered off the path and crossed the stream further up the trail.  When I tried to cross back over, I slipped on one of the rocks and hit my head.  The next thing I knew, no one could hear me or see me.”

            “I’m sorry,” Cassie said with compassion.  She could only imagine what that must have been like.

            “Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.  It was just an accident.” Sarah smiled at her.  “Being stuck here isn’t too bad.  It’s just lonely.  I stayed behind to watch over my boyfriend, but when he left the lake I wasn’t able to go with him.” 

            “That must have been very sad,” Cassie replied.

            “It was.  The worst part was being alone all of the time.”

            Cassie laid a sympathetic hand on Sarah’s shoulder.  “You’re not alone now.  If I could find a way to release you from this place, I would. Matt and I researched that very topic over the past few weeks, but we haven’t been able to find anything yet.”

Sarah smiled at her.  She turned and started to walk back into the woods. “I will leave you to your hike.  Thank you for stopping and talking to me for a few minutes.” 

Cassie thought that Sarah’ story was a very sad one. It didn’t seem fair that she was stuck here.  She wished that she had her Wicca books with her or her laptop.  She might have been able to find a spell that would release Sarah’s spirit.  Of course, if she released Sarah from her prison on earth, she would have to do the same for Matt.  Cassie wasn’t sure she would be able to do that.  She cared about Matt far too much to lose him.  She knew it was selfish of her, but she couldn’t help how she felt.  She would be lost without him.

Cassie looked over at Sarah.  “You’re welcome.  I’m staying here for a week so maybe we can talk again before I leave.”

            “I’d like that,” Sarah said with a smile.  She turned and disappeared into the woods. 

Cassie decided she liked hearing the spring trickle by and decided to stay a little longer.  As she sat there, she started thinking about Kari.  Unlike Cassie, Kari had seriously dated several guys this year and two the year before.  Even though Kari hung out with Amber and Cassie, she was far more popular than either of them.  Cassie laid her head down on her knees and closed her eyes. 

After a few minutes, she let the tears come.  She didn’t understand why Kari couldn’t accept her the way she was.  So what if she didn’t date anyone seriously?  Kari knew that Cassie wasn’t like most people.  She wished her friend could be more supportive.  What was the big deal with sleeping with a bunch of guys anyway?  Wasn’t it better to wait for someone special? Someone like Matt? 

Thinking of Matt just made her cry harder.  Why did the most wonderful man she knew have to be a ghost?  Cassie knew a large part of why she didn’t date had to do with Matt.  Even if Cassie knew they couldn’t be together, she still compared every guy she ever met to Matt.  Every date she went on, she wished that it was Matt sitting across from her or holding her hand.  It wasn’t fair to the men that asked her out, but she couldn’t seem to help it.

            Cassie sat on the rock for the longest time and eventually cried herself to sleep.  An hour passed before Cole found her sitting on that same rock.  He stood there watching her for a few minutes… not sure if he should disturb her or not.  Why had she been crying?  Did it have anything to do with her friends leaving her out here?

            “Cassie?  Wake-up, Cass.” Cole gently nudged her.

            Cassie lifted her head and saw Cole standing by her.  She looked around and noticed it was nearly dark outside.  She tried to stand and nearly fell.  Her legs had fallen asleep from sitting in that cramped position for so long.  Cole deftly caught her around the waist and helped her stand up.  Being this close to him, she could smell his woodsy scent.  She wanted to wrap her arms around him and bury her face in his shirt.  For the first time in her life, she wanted to take solace in someone’s embrace other than Matt’s.  Instead, she took a step back and wiped the tears from her eyes.

Looking up at him she asked, “How did you find me?”

            “I saw your friends come out of the woods without you.  I waited a few minutes and when you didn’t come back down the trail I thought I would come and get you. It’s an hour walk back to the cabin and dinner will be served in less than two hours,” Cole replied.

            “Thanks for coming out here.”

            “Are you ready to walk back? Or do you need more time,” he asked.

            Cassie looked at Cole.  He looked concerned.  The thought that such a cute guy might like her was enough to put a smile back on Cassie’s face. Maybe this time, she wouldn’t think of Matt all the time.  It would be nice to go out with a guy and be happy just to be with him.

“No, I’m all right.  We can head back,” she said.

            As they drew closer to the cabin, Cole reached over and took Cassie’s hand.  Cassie looked at him in surprise, but then she smiled and threaded her fingers through his.  They walked in silence back to the cabin.  She had never felt this comfortable with anyone before.  It was like she had known Cole her whole life.

            “I think I’m going to go inside and freshen up a little,” Cassie said as they came to the end of the trail.  She knew her face was probably streaked from her tears and she had some fallen leaves stuck in her hair.  In other words, she was a wreck.

            “Okay.  I’m going to sit out here for a minute. Want me to wait on you for dinner?”

            “I’d like that.” Cassie said with a shy smile before going into the cabin. 

She grabbed her bag of toiletries and a clean change of clothes and headed to the bathroom.  She took a hot shower, washing her hair with her favorite lavender shampoo and using her favorite lavender soap.  When she was done, she got out and towel dried her long hair and put on her pink sweater and jeans.  She quickly moisturized her face and put on a little mascara and lipstick.  Her cheeks were pink enough from the hot water of her shower that blush wasn’t necessary tonight.

            Cassie put her makeup back in the little bag and put the bag in the mirrored cabinet above the sink.  Even though her hair was still quite wet, it fell in long dark waves down her back.  She put her dirty clothes in her room and put on her brown Dr. Martens.  When she stepped out onto the porch, Cole turned to face her.

            “Wow. You look great,” he said as his eyes devoured every inch of her. He couldn’t help but wonder what she was wearing under the pink sweater. 

            Cassie blushed. “Thanks.  Are you ready to see if dinner’s ready?”

            Cole nodded.  They started walking toward the lodge.  Again, he reached over and took her hand.  With their fingers laced together, they walked up the steps to the lodge and went inside.  Most of the people staying at Whispering Lake were already filling their plates.  They saw Kari and Amber across the room. Kari saw their joined hands and glared at her.  Cassie should have expected that since Kari had mentioned that she wanted Cole for herself.

            “Would you like to sit at the same table we had during lunch?” Cole asked her.

            “That would be great,” Cassie replied.

            “Let’s go.”  Cole led her over to the buffet and handed her a plate before grabbing one for himself.

            Cassie and Cole finished filling their plates and went to find their table by the window.  Just as Cassie sat down, she felt something brush past her leg.  She looked down and saw an adorable little dog.  She knew she shouldn’t acknowledge it though, at least not in front of Cole.  The dog was a ghost.  Cassie nonchalantly reached down as if she were going to pick something up and quickly patted the pup on the head.  She noticed Cole was watching her. 

“Dropped my napkin,” she said with a grin.  He smiled back and they started eating.

            From across the room, Kari had noticed Cassie’s move.  She knew exactly what had happened.  Cassie had attracted a ghost just as she always did.  At that moment, Kari knew exactly how she could separate Cassie and Cole.  After all, had she not told Cassie that she wanted Cole?  Besides, Cassie wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with a guy like that.  All Kari had to do was let Cole know that he was interested in a freak who talked to ghosts.  Everything else would fall into place after that.  Who would want to date someone like Cassie anyway?

It wasn’t fair that Cassie got to have the attention of a guy as hot as Cole.  She got up and walked over to their table.  After all, it wasn’t like Cassie was going to seriously date him anyway.  Kari might as well be able to have some fun during the trip and she planned on having fun with Cole.

            “Hi Cassie.  Seen Casper lately?” Kari asked snidely.

            Cassie could see Cole watching her, waiting for her response. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Kari.”

How could Kari do this to her? Cassie hoped she would drop it and walk away. No such luck!

            “You know what I mean.  Been talking to any ghosts lately? You know, like the one you were just petting under the table,” Kari continued relentlessly.

            Cassie gasped.  She shot her eyes over to Cole to judge his reaction.  He was just looking between her and Kari. 

“Are you trying to tell me that Cassie can talk to ghosts,” Cole asked.

            His calm tone wasn’t the reaction that Kari had hoped for.  He was taking this news entirely too well.  He was supposed to freak out and want to be as far from Cassie as possible.

“Yes, she can talk to dead people and animals. It looked to me like she was petting a ghost dog or cat under the table,” Kari responded, sure that he would get up at any moment and walk away from Cassie.

            Cole looked at Cassie. He could tell she was really uncomfortable with what Kari was saying. Could she really talk to and touch spirits?  “Is that true, Cassie?  You can see ghosts?”

             “Yes, it’s true,” she whispered.

She started to get up from the table, but Cole reached over and took her hand.  She looked into his eyes and saw that he wasn’t repulsed or freaked over her news. If anything, he looked intrigued.  Could she have finally found someone who would understand and accept her as is?

            “Please sit back down. I’d like for you to finish having dinner with me.  If you want to, that is,” he told her with a smile.

            Cole looked at Kari, “Anything else you’d like to share for her? I’m sure she’s capable of telling me these things when she’s ready.”

            Kari looked mad enough to spit nails. She spun away from their table and stormed back over to sit by Amber again.  Amber looked at Cassie apologetically.

            Looking back at Cole, Cassie said, “You certainly took that differently than I had thought you would. Aren’t you freaked out?”

            Cole shrugged. “Honestly, I think it’s kind of cool.  I always knew that things like ghosts existed.  I’ve never seen one, but sometimes I’ve thought I could feel one.  It kind of makes me wonder what else might be out there.”  He smiled at her. “Who knows, maybe vampires and werewolves are real too.”

            Cassie was amazed.  Cole was not only gorgeous, kind and seemed to like her, but he was also willing to accept her as she was… freakish powers and all. “I don’t know what to say. I figured by now you would have been running as fast you could to get away from me.  That’s what most guys do anyway.”

            Cole grinned at her. “It will take a lot more than that to run me off.” 

He couldn’t believe that guys would run from Cassie. So what if she could talk to ghosts?  It just made her different.  Everyone was different in their own way.  It was a small part of who she was.  Any man should feel honored to have such a beautiful and caring woman in his life. 

            Cassie smiled in return and finished eating her dinner.  Once they were done and had returned their plates to the kitchen, they left the lodge.  When they stepped outside, Cole turned towards Cassie. 

“I had a nice time tonight,” he told her.

            “Me, too.” Cassie smiled at him.  “Maybe we could do it again sometime? If you’re interested, that is.”

            “Oh, I’m definitely interested.” Cole smiled at her. 

He thought she looked even more beautiful in the moonlight.  She was a good foot shorter than he was, but she reminded him of a petite pixie.  She had delicate features and a full mouth that he wanted to kiss.  He wondered what she’d say if he leaned down and kissed her at that moment.  Deciding not to tempt fate, he steered his thoughts in another direction.

“Would you like to walk around the lake? Or head back to the cabin? I think I saw a DVD player and some movies in the living room,” Cole said.

            “How about a short walk first?”  Cassie couldn’t think of anything more romantic than a moonlit walk by the lake. 

Cassie had only dreamed of nights like this before.  She felt comfortable around Cole, but she also felt a little guilty.  She wasn’t sure why, but it almost felt like she was cheating on Matt when she was with Cole.  Would she ever get over him and allow herself to have a real life?  Her she was with a gorgeous guy that accepted her unique ability and she was thinking of Matt again.  There was something seriously wrong with her!

            They held hands and walked in the moonlight, looking out over the lake.  It was quiet despite the fact that all 30 cabins were full.  It seemed like everyone had decided to stay at the lodge for whatever activity had been planned for the evening, while the rest were quietly heading to their cabins. 

            Cassie was starting to shiver.  The night was getting cooler by the minute.  “Cole, would you mind if we headed back to the cabin now? It’s starting to get a little cold.”

            “Sure.”  He put his arm around her shoulders and started walking towards the cabin.  “Do you think you’ll feel up to a movie? Or do you want to head to your room?  I’m sure you had a long day.”

            His thoughtfulness touched her.  “I think I can handle a movie,” she said with a smile.

 

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