The Last Boyfriend(2)

By: Nora Roberts


They were nearly ready for them.

He moved on to Reception, took another scan, grinned again.

The mantel Ryder had created out of a thick old plank of barn wood suited the old brick and the deep open fireplace. At the moment, tarps, more paint cans, more tools crowded the space. He made a few more notes, wandering back, moving through the first arch, then paused on his way across The Lobby to what would be The Lounge, when he heard footsteps on the second floor.

He walked through the next arch leading down the short hallway toward the stairs. He saw Luther had been hard at work on the iron rails, and ran a hand over it as he started the climb.

“Okay, pretty damn gorgeous. Ry? You up here?”

A door shut smartly, made him jump a little. His quiet blue eyes narrowed as he finished the climb. His brothers weren’t against screwing with him, and damned if he’d give either of them an excuse to snicker.

“Ooooh,” he said in mock fear. “It must be the ghost. I’m so scared!”

He made the turn toward the front of the building, saw that the door to Elizabeth and Darcy was indeed closed, unlike that of Titania and Oberon across from it.

Very funny, he thought sourly.

He crept toward the door, intending to shove it open, jump in, and possibly give whichever one of his brothers was playing games a jolt. He closed his hand on the curved handle, pulled it down smoothly, pushed.

The door didn’t budge.

“Cut it out, asshole.” But he laughed a little in spite of himself. At least until the door flew open, and both porch doors did the same.

He smelled honeysuckle, sweet as summer, on the rush of icy air.

“Well, Jesus.”

He’d mostly accepted they had a ghost, mostly believed it. After all, there’d been incidents, and Beckett was adamant. Adamant enough he’d named her Elizabeth in honor of the room she preferred.

But this was Owen’s first personal, up-close, and unarguable experience.

He stood, slack-jawed, as the bathroom door slammed, then flew open, then slammed again.

“Okay. Wow, okay. Um, sorry to intrude. I was just—” The door slammed in his face—or would have if he hadn’t jumped back in time to avoid the bust to his nose.

“Hey, come on. You’ve got to know me by now. I’m here almost every day. Owen, Beck’s brother. I, ah, come in peace and all that.”

The bathroom door slammed again, and the sound made him wince. “Easy on the material, okay? What’s the problem? I was just . . . Oh. I get it.”

Clearing his throat, he pulled off his wool cap, raked his hands through his thick, bark brown hair. “Listen, I wasn’t calling you an asshole. I thought it was Ry. You know my other brother. Ryder? He can be an asshole, you have to admit. And I’m standing in the hallway explaining myself to a ghost.”

The door opened a crack. Cautiously, Owen eased it open. “I’m just going to close the porch doors. We really have to keep them closed.”

He could admit, to himself, the sound of his own voice echoing in the empty room gave him the jitters, but he shoved the cap into his coat pocket as he moved to the far door, shut it, locked it. But when he got to the second door, he saw the lights shining in Avery’s apartment over the restaurant.

He saw her, or a flash of her, move by the window.

The rush of air stilled; the scent of honeysuckle sweetened.

“I’ve smelled you before,” he murmured, still looking out at Avery’s windows. “Beckett says you warned him the night that fucker—sorry for the language—Sam Freemont went after Clare. So thanks for that. They’re getting married—Beck and Clare. You probably know that. He’s been stuck on her most of his life.”

He shut the door now, turned around. “So thanks again.”

The bathroom door stood open now, so he caught his own reflection in the mirror with its curvy iron frame over the vanity.

He had to admit, he looked a little wild-eyed, and the hair sticking up in tufts from the rake of his fingers added to the spooked image.

Automatically, he shoved his fingers through again to try to calm it down.

“I’m just going through the place, making notes. We’re down to punch-out work essentially. Not in here, though. This is done. I think the crew wanted to finish this room up. Some of them get a little spooked. No offense. So . . . I’m going to finish up and go. See you—or not see you, but . . .”