Authors: Maureen Child
“Maureen Child has a sharp, witty voice that will leave readers begging for more.”
bestselling author of
The Last of the Red-Hot Vampires
“Sassy reparteeâ¦humor and warmthâ¦a frothy delight.”
“Maureen Child infuses her writing with the perfect blend of laughter, tears, and romanceâ¦. Well-crafted charactersâ¦. Her novels [are] a treat to be savored.”
âJill Marie Landis, author of
“Maureen Child always writes a guaranteed winnerâ¦. Sexy and impossible to put down.”
âSusan Mallery, author of
“Absolutely wonderfulâ¦a delightful blend of humor and emotionâ¦this sexy love story will definitely keep readers turning the pages.”
âKristin Hannah, author of
Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhiâ110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore, Auckland 1311, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright Â© Maureen Child, 2007
All rights reserved
SIGNET ECLIPSE and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
More than fiends / Maureen Child.
1. House cleaningâManagementâFiction. 2. Discernment of spiritsâFiction.
3. SupernaturalâFiction. I. Title.
PS3561.A468M67Â Â Â Â Â 2007
813'.6âdc22 Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2006032872
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
To my wonderful friend, and a fabulous writer, Kate Carlisle.
Kate you're the best. I seriously owe you for all the help
and the understanding ear I hit a brick wall with Cassidy!
uit? What do you mean, you quit?” I yanked the phone away from my ear, shook it like it was one of those Magic 8 Balls and I could get a different answer out of it, then slapped it to my head so hard I saw stars. “Barbara, you can't just
“I'm really sorry, Cassidy,” the voice on the phone said, but she didn't sound sorry at all. “But I can't keep working for free. You told me that my check definitely wouldn't bounce this time, and it did.”
Damn it, the bank. I
there was something else I was supposed to do on Saturday. “I've got the deposit right here,” I told her. “I'll head to the bank now, and you can resubmit your check this afternoon.”
“Good to know,” Barbara answered, “but I still quit. I just hate cleaning houses, Cass. It's just too gross. So, bye.”
She hung up, and I listened to the dial tone for a couple of minutes. Then I tossed the phone onto the nearest chair and headed for the kitchen. For chrissakes, of course cleaning houses was gross. Why the hell else would people pay us to do it for them?
I walked across the kitchen, stepped over Sugar, the huge black-and-white dog we'd rescued from the pound as a five-pound puppy. Now, of course, we knew that the whole five-pound thing was a clever ploy to get herself adopted. Because grown up, she was the size of a small pony, with all the grace and dignity of an elephant whose feet were tied together.
Sugar didn't stir, which was fine by me. I didn't need affection. What I needed was coffee and the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich I'd just cooked before the phone rang andâ¦My coffee cup was still on the table, beside a plate, empty of anything but a few miserable crumbs.
Sugar's tail thumped against the floor.
A guilty thump if I'd ever heard one.
I gave her a narrow-eyed stare that she didn't bother reacting to. “Do you have sausage breath?”
She pretended to be asleep. Even managed a pretty credible snore. But I wasn't fooled. Dropping to one knee, I looked through the nest of hair into a pair of brown eyes and grumbled, “That was
Sugar flopped her tail again and gave me a sausage-flavored swipe of her tongue. Swell. Guess it's as close as I was getting to breakfast that morning.
I grabbed the coffee cup before Sugar could look for a chaser and refilled it at the pot. On the service porch, my ancient washing machine was doing the hokey pokey hard enough to make its lid slap up and down like it was clapping time. I slammed one hip against the washer to hold it in place and tried not to notice that an old washing machine on spin cycle was as close to an orgasm as I'd come in too long to think about.
Wouldn't you know it, the minute I started enjoying the sensation, something inside the washer snapped with a loud, really expensive sounding
and hot water gushed out from the bottom of the damn thing. My sneakers were soaked; suds rode a wave of water into the kitchenâwhere Sugar jumped up like she'd been shot, and tipped the table onto its side. My empty plate shattered against the linoleum, and the jagged pieces floated into the living room.
The day just kept getting better.
Sugar was howling indignantly, and my hoo-hah was still tingling as I started a mental list of everything I had to get done that day.
With Barbara gone, I'd have to go out and clean a couple of places with Carmen Mendoza, my one remaining employee. No way could she handle all the work alone. Just perfect. So all I had to do was mop up my entire house (upside, the floors were now clean), go to the bank, barter my body at the appliance store to get a new washer, work my ass off at two houses, hit the high school for a conference with my daughter's math teacher (a talk which I probably wouldn't even understand), thenâ
Sugar made a kind of half growl, half lurchy noise, and I looked over in time to see her barf up my breakfast sandwich.
Happy birthday to me.
A few hours later, I limped into my house. I was exhausted and dirty from the cleaning jobs, and after the meeting at the high school, feeling really unfit to be raising a math-genius daughter. But then, I'd known I was going to be outclassed when Thea was six and she balanced my checkbookâthen gave me a brief lecture on the importance of IRAs.
Nothing much had changed. According to Ms. Welch, Thea's math teacher, my daughter was the next Einstein or something. And I couldn't help but notice that Ms. Welch kept looking at me as if she was trying to figure out just how I'd managed to produce such a gifted child.
Well, get in line.
Sometimes I had trouble with that one, too.
But, in the dissolving world that is my life, Thea is the one bright spot. I had her at sixteen. For me, keeping her was the best choice I ever made. Thea and I were a team. Simpatico. The Two Musketeers.
Until about a minute after the phone rang.
I grabbed the receiver on the way to the service porch, where I planned to kick the washing machine good-bye. At least one thing in my day had gone well. There was a spanking-new washer headed my way, as soon as the delivery guy could get to the house. I felt like I should be saluting the old machine. But, honestly, I just wanted it gone. Over the last couple of months, it had made its displeasure with its existence known by chewing up my bras and spitting pieces of lace into the rinse water. I swear it was actually
As it turned out, I hadn't had to barter my body for a new machine. Bob, of Bob's Appliances in downtown La Sombra, had already
my body back in high school. Hey, don't judge meâwe all make mistakes, and believe me, Bob was one for the books. But at least he had declined a revisit, instead setting me up with a million and one easy payments that I'd probably be finishing up by the time I got my first Social Security check.
Gotta love a small town.
“Hello?” I gave the machine a good kick anyway, on principle.
“Cassie? Is that you?”
Only one human being in the world
called me Cassie.
I felt around for a chair, yanked it out and plopped down onto it. Having your past charge up and slap you in the face? Not the thrill ride you'd expect.
Could this birthday
“Cassie? You there?”
“Uh, yeah. Hi.”
“That's it? That's all I get afterâGod, how long's it been, anyway?”
“Sixteen years.” I knew exactly how long it had been since I'd seen Logan Miller, father of my darling Thea. See, I was pregnant during my junior year of high school. My prom dateâPaul Martin, a good friend who hadn't come out of the closet yetâpinned my corsage to my belly for the photo. Good times.
Anyway, Logan was a senior in college the summer I met him. We had fun. (Obviously.) And over three great months, I fell in love and he fell into a good thing. By the end of summer, I was pregnant and he was gone, headed off to finish up at Stanford. When I found out I was pregnant, I didn't say anything. I was going to, but then figured that I didn't want to get in his way during that last year of college. Let him take care of business, you know?
Of course, my dad was completely freaked at the time. He wanted the name of someone he could kill. Since my mom had died when I was twelve, Dad had taken on the protective instincts of both parents, sort of making him a cross between a rabid dog and a hungry bear. And finding out that somebody had slipped past his defenses and left his baby girl pregnant was enough to make him a little nuts.
But I kept my secretsâI hadn't wanted Logan dead; I'd wanted him
. I planned to tell Logan all about our baby at his graduation. After which, I imagined we'd all drive off together in a perfect little BMW, live in a great house on the beach andâWell, that's as far as my plans went.
Just as well I didn't put more effort into those dreams and schemes, really, since I left my new baby girl with her doting grandpa, went to Logan's graduation and got a big hug from him just before he introduced me to his fiancÃ©e, Muffy or Crusty or something, I don't remember. The rest of that afternoon was pretty much blessedly blank.
The point is, our twain hasn't met in sixteen years. And that's the way I wanted it.
Really. The hard beat of my heart and the swirl of something hot and gooey in the pit of my stomach had absolutely nothing to do with the sound of Logan's voice in my ear. Oh God. My chin hit my chest. Pitiful. At thirty-two, I was reacting to Logan the same way I had at sixteen. This could
be a good sign.
I gave myself a quick, mental talking-to. I'd been fine without Logan in my life, hadn't I? And so had Thea. Sure, she had gone through the whole I-want-a-daddy-like-everyone-else phase, but we'd survived it.
In fact, when she had first started asking about why she didn't have a daddy, I had said the first thing that came to mind: “He's dead.”
Well, okay, I embellished a little, to take the sting out. Something along the lines of “Your daddy died saving poor little orphans from a flood.” Or was it a fire?
Made her feel better about the man who'd walked away from us without another glance. Well, he'd walked away from
. Technically, he didn't even know about Thea, and that's the way I wanted to keep it.
Thea and I were doing great on our own. We didn't need Logan back in our lives now to mess things up. Not to mention I really didn't want to think about having to tell Thea that I hadn't been exactly honest about her dad.
“Wow. Sixteen years. Amazing.”
“Yeah. Amazing. So what's up, Logan?” I stood up, yanked open the freezer, and grabbed a cookie from my emergency stash of Girl Scout Samoas and took a bite, instinctively shooting my hip at Sugar to keep her from jumping up to grab it. Hey, she'd already had breakfast, which was more than I could say.
“Just wanted to check in, say howdy.”
“Sixteen years and you're just checking in? What's going on? And why would anyone want to say the word
He laughed, so I knew something was up. It hadn't been that funny.
“You haven't changed, have you?” he asked. “You always could make me laugh.”
“Yeah,” I said sourly, “it's good to be me.”
“Cassie, I'm back in town, thought we could catch up.”
I gulped, took another bite of cookie and talked around it.
Back in town?
I thought wildly. Which town?
Cool, Cass. Keep it cool. Don't let the panic show. Yet.
“Catch up on what?”
“On what you've been up to. What I've been doing. And how I've moved back to La Sombra.”
The Samoa got stuck halfway down my throat, and the coconut and chocolate were strangling me. Ordinarily, not a bad way to go.
So, not just back in town. Back in town to
here in La Sombra?
“You're back? Permanently?”
“Yep. Today's my first day at work. I waited to call until I was settled.”
was settled, while my world was rocking as badly as the old washing machine. My stomach was jumping and my head was pounding.
“So, you're not married or anything, are you?” he asked, oh so casually.
I slapped my chest like I could push air into my lungs, ignored Sugar's whining because I'd selfishly eaten the whole cookie, and managed to croak, “Uh, no. But you are. Remember?”
“Not anymore,” he said, and I couldn't tell if that was depression or relief in his voice. “Got a divorce last year.”
Was he looking for condolences or celebration? I took a guess. “Sorry?”
“Nah. It's good.”
Great. Just what I wanted. Logan, happily single. Back in town. He didn't know about Thea, so why was he calling me? Sixteen years and he picks up the phone to chitchat with the girl he left behind? It so didn't make sense.
I was only half listening as he continued to talk, (a) because I had to come up with some way to keep him and Thea apartâwhich wasn't going to be easyâand (b) because the sound of Logan's voice was hitting me even harder now. Harder maybe because I was older, knew more about sex and could look back and appreciate just how good he'd been at it? Whatever the reason, I was getting that feeling again. You know the oneâ¦sort of a hot/cold, goose-bumpy, anticipational (yes, I know that's not a word) thing.
Oh man, Logan back in town was going to seriously confuse my already fairly confused life.