Something’s wrong in Iles, Indiana.
And Ryanne Thornhall is the only person who knows it. Ryanne is a geistwanderer—she walks with ghosts. However, when Ryanne sends on the “imaginary” childhood friend of Andre McGuire, the star football player of Iles High, things take a turn. The murdered little boy warns them about The Bad One, a specter terrifying the local ghosts and the living.
Ryanne is the only one who can stop it. Maybe. Probably.
Torn between wanting to protect Andre and needing his help, Ryanne delves into the mysteries of this small town’s long-forgotten murders, The Bad One and how it connects to her family. Ryanne and Andre must team up to defeat The Bad One before it destroys them, the school and maybe the entire town—but she has to survive Algebra first.
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I hate the living.
“Move it, runt!” a man yells over a blaring horn, as if that’ll make me pedal faster.
Well, it does, since I don’t want to die. But man do I hate the living.
A massive truck with a gun rack in the back window zooms past me at the entrance to the Windsor Estates subdivision. At least that dude didn’t take a shot at me.
Whoa. I mean, I assumed the Andre McGuire lived in a nice house but this? Should’ve known with a name like “Windsor Estates” that the houses would be enormous and the yards are massive. Even in the dim light of an early October evening, everything screams money.
I can’t believe I’m doing this. Again.
Panting, I pull out my ancient phone and check the text Andre sent late last night.
“Janice Orvitt said you could help me. 629 W. Hampton Court, after practice tomorrow?”
As if I automatically know when football practice is over. Jocks. They think the whole world revolves around them.
I shouldn’t be in this fancy subdivision.
Of course, I shouldn’t have freed Janice Orvitt from her Civil-War-era stalker three weeks ago. Sending another Geist on wasn’t part of the plan when Mom and I moved to Iles, Indiana, in May. This town was supposed to be my fresh start, the place where I was a normal girl. Or at least pretended to be one.
I tried. I did. Before Janice, I hadn’t sent a soul on for almost a year. I’ve ignored spirits like Troy, the jock who died driving drunk back in the 1980s, and listened to all the stories Mr. Walter, a deceased school janitor, without so much as even thinking about parting the veil for them. I still see souls everywhere, but I ignore them.
Until I stumbled upon Janice having a panic attack in a corner of the library while a dead Union solider screamed at her that she should’ve waited for him. What was I supposed to do? She hadn’t been able to see or hear the ghost, but even the most energy-insensitive person would’ve felt that much anger and confusion directed at them from a spirit. Janice sure did.
So I did what I had to for a girl who didn’t know my name before and hasn’t made eye contact with me since. Only knocked a few books off the shelves in the process which, considering what’d happened the last time, was pretty good.
Olga, however, had not agreed. She’d been so furious that I’d broken my promise to both my mother and to her that she ghosted me—for real. I don’t see how I had a choice, though.
I’m a Geistwanderer. This is what I was born to do.
Which is why I answered Andre’s text and why I’m in front of the house sporting the numbers 629 in shiny brass bolted to the brick mailbox. It’s at the end of the cul-de-sac. It practically is the cul-de-sac.
Taking a deep breath, I walk my bike up the long drive and try to look like I belong. As if that’s possible. Look at this place! Three whole stories of red brick to match the mailbox with two wings fanning out from the main body of the house. There’s even a huge chandelier shining out of a second floor window. The grass is a uniform emerald green around beds of beautiful chrysanthemums accented with dozens of pumpkins and gourds in weird shapes and sizes.
Who spends that much on decorative gourds? Andre wouldn’t notice if I swiped one butternut squash, right? I could make soup out of that and dude’s got squash to spare. My stomach growls at the thought of fresh soup as I lean my bike against a light post and walk up to the door. It’s been a long time since lunch at school.
Before getting his Sunday-night texts, I would’ve bet dollars to donuts Andre McGuire didn’t know I existed. Why would he? He’s the star junior running back and I’m the new kid, the emo freshman people sneer at. To her face.
Him asking me to his house? Normally, I’d assume it was a trap. Only, it’s not like Janice spread the story of her haunting around. There hasn’t been so much as a whisper about me or Janice or me and Janice, much less a ghost. Which is fine with me.
So if Janice had told Andre about what had happened, then…she must’ve felt he really needed to talk to me.
Still, this whole situation makes me edgy. Especially when the front door opens and there he is. Andre McGuire in the flesh. Literally. All six-five, two-twenty-something of him, pulling a fresh tee over his head, as if his bare chest had the power to stun me silly or something.
The ego on this guy is bigger than his house.
“Ryan?” He mispronounces my name. Figures. “The ghost hunter, right?”
“Do not call me a ghost hunter and it’s Ryanne,” I snap before thinking better of mouthing off to a guy the size of a tank who wants me inside his house. “If you so much as think the words witch or necromancer, I’m out. Understood?”
“More rules, huh?” His amused smirk irritates me. “Hey, thanks for coming.”
Since he’s being civil, the least I can do is not snarl in return. “You’re welcome.” There. Perfectly polite. Olga would be proud. She frequently bemoans my manners.
The living are so rarely honest—with themselves and especially with me. So a little politeness from an intimidating football player won’t throw me off my game.
“Come on it. You want something to drink?”
“No.” No handouts. Thornhall women do not accept them. Ever.
He looks at me like I farted. Loudly. “No, thank you,” I correct. Look how polite I am, Olga!
Brow wrinkling in confusion, maybe, he shakes his head. “I, um, appreciate you doing this for me.”
Time to dig deep and be the professional I am. “I’m not doing this for you.” I step inside.
“No?” He shuts the door behind me. “Then who?” Everything about him—his cocky posture, his smirk, the humor in his eyes—says that this is a joke. That I’m a joke.
“For the spirit.” Holy cow—that’s the biggest TV I’ve ever seen. It could be a load-bearing wall, for heaven’s sake! And above a carved marble mantle…
A framed portrait of the McGuire family. His parents are beautiful. I recognize his father—hard not to when Herman “The Herman Tank” McGuire owns an auto dealership, at least two restaurants, a bowling alley and more in this town. Plus he’s also the spokesman for the United Way and the Boys and Girls Clubs. He’s not the mayor or the governor but it didn’t take long to realize that Iles, Indiana, runs on McGuire money.
A lot of people would do a whole bunch to keep it that way. Including the McGuires, I’m sure.
And I’m standing in the McGuire house. Alone. With Andre.
Herman is younger in this portrait than he is in the commercials, no salt and pepper in his close-cropped hair. His hand rests on his wife’s shoulder. She’s much smaller and several shades lighter than Herman, with the kind of smile that makes me wonder if she was a model? Because she’s that gorgeous.
I didn’t know Andre had three older brothers—or that they were all so much older than he was, because Andre is clearly the little one sitting on his mother’s lap. I’d recognize that grin anywhere.
The McGuires look like the perfect American family, the kind that’s always there for each other in an emergency. The kind that would never let someone “treat” their kid like Mom let those quacks “treat” me.
I turn away from that happy family. “Are your parents home?”
Suspicion flickers across his eyes. “No.”
“When will they be back?”
People like Andre—and Janice before him—want me to tell them if they’re seeing Geists or just imagining things. And they don’t even know the worst that could happen if the wrong people decide they’ve gone insane. Parental people.
Unable to help myself, I glance back at that family picture. Famous, wealthy parental people, especially. The kind who might do anything to hush up an incident involving their son. And if that meant sacrificing someone like me to do it…
Yeah. This was definitely a mistake.
Andre rolls his eyes impatiently. “They’re at the mayor’s re-election fundraiser, so they won’t be back until after nine. That’s why I suggested tonight.”
Sure, fundraisers. People so rich they have extra money to chuck at politicians. Cool, cool.
The huge grandfather clock in the hallway—all gleaming wood and brass—says it’s already seven-fifteen. It took me a lot longer to get here than I thought.
It might not be enough time and his parents can’t catch me here. Talk about suspicious. But I can’t leave without making sure there’s not a spirit who needs me. “You read the note I sent?”
I used to tell people the rules, but it got old repeating myself and they never listened anyway. It’s quicker to send a list. That way, if the walls start to ooze, I can say I warned them.
Thankfully, the wall thing only happened that one time.
“I do my homework. Seems like a lot of rules, though.” Andre casually leans against the dark carved wood banister that almost matches the color of his skin. Everything, everywhere is spotless and clean. No dust, dirt or, heavens forbid, mold are allowed to exist in this mansion.
Pushing off the bannister, Andre steps toward me. I tense. Is he testing my limits? “Rule two, remember? Do not touch me.” I pour as much ice into my voice as I can.
To his credit, he stops. “Or what? That part was a little unclear.”
“Or you will regret it.”
Andre holds up his hands in mock surrender and then he says it. “Wouldn’t want you to sic your ghost friends on me, right?”
One day, I’ll save up enough for a Taser. “You don’t want to know what I’m capable of.”
I can’t fight off someone Andre’s size. Not without a bazooka. Bluffing is all I have. But like everything else, it’s walking a fine line. One wrong step and I go from a vague warning to a credible threat that gets me reported and when I get reported…
“Okay.” He sounds…confused? Did he think I’d throw myself at him? Not likely. But he keeps his distance. That’s all that matters.
Now for the hard part. “Tell me about your ghost.” He texted the basics but it’s easy to lie in text. Harder in person.
“Janice said you barfed your guts up.”
My cheeks burn hot. Mental note: ‘thank’ Janice for sharing that detail. “Let’s stick to your ghost.”
Andre tries to put that devil-may-care smile back on his face but he doesn’t make it. “About two, three weeks ago, I started hearing noises in the attic, right over my bed. I wake up freezing, with something next to my bed. It vanishes when I turn on the light.”
Totally typical. “And?” He’s holding out on me. I can tell.
Andre swallows, looking less like a nationally top-ranked high school football player and more like a guy in over his very tall head. “It whispers my name,” he admits, his voice pitching up a notch. “It says other things I don’t understand, but my name? How does it know that?”
Either he’s scared or a much better actor than I would’ve guessed.
“Did you answer all my questions about the house honestly? If you left anything out, now is the time to share.” This is the part where the living always decide I’m nuts.
“I told you what I know.” Andre’s voice drops a whole octave. Yes, yes, you’re very tough. “Dad had the house built the year before I was born, so no previous owners and no one’s died here. No record of cemeteries or anything, but it’s Indiana, so of course there were Native tribes who lived here before us. This was Shawnee territory?” He shrugs, but I’m impressed.
I mean, I knew that, but only because I’ve seen a few members of the tribes moving through the streets, unaware as cars drove through them. Most spirits aren’t conscious of the world around them. No one else has a clue who lived here before George Iles “discovered” the land and founded the town he so generously named after himself.
“You’re sure it’s not a prank by your brothers? I’ve heard older brothers can be rough.”
Whoops, that was a mistake. He looms over me, his eyes narrowed, fists clenched. Jeez, remind me not to piss off Andre McGuire. “No. My brothers would never do something like this. We were raised to protect each other because no one else would.”
Did not expect that blindside to the feels.
Andre goes on, “Besides, Herm is playing in Indianapolis—”
“You call your dad by his first name? I thought he’d retired?” Dude must be busy.
“My brother is Herman, Junior,” he continues, an edge to his voice. Mr. Popular doesn’t like to be interrupted. “Herm’s in Indy, Trey is in Green Bay and Matty is at Stanford. I’m the only one of us still living at home. And no,” he adds forcefully, “my parents wouldn’t mess with me like this either.”
It’s my turn to hold up my hands. “How about teammates?”
Andre leans forward, eyebrows raising in suspicion. “Did Houch do something? I heard rumors, but…”
Everyone’s heard rumors about Mitch Houchin, which is why I stay clear of him. “No. But guys like him might think something like this was funny, that’s all.”
Andre gives me a look. “If he ever gives you trouble, you tell me and I’ll make sure he’s off the team. Dad taught me to never let shit happen in my locker room.”
I doubt Andre would get a guy who scores a lot of points kicked off his team because I said something. That’s not how the world works and we both know it. Whatever Andre’s game is, I’m not falling for it. “Anything else? The smallest details can be important.”
“I don’t think so,” he answers, his gaze suddenly unable to meet mine.
Great. So much for honesty. No wonder I hate the living.
Then he adds, “You, uh, don’t think I’ve lost it?”
I manage not to roll my eyes. “Have you met me?”
“It’s just…” He stares at his shoes, which have gotten fascinating, I guess? For shoes? “It can’t be real. What if it isn’t?”
Everyone follows the same script. Hollywood, give me a call and I’ll happily tell you all the ways you get it wrong—for a fee. “But what if it is?”
He thinks about that and then everything about him changes and we’re right back to looming. “Then what?” The glare he shoots at me is powerful enough to knock me back a step. “You tell everyone Andre McGuire lost it? If colleges heard that…”
He trails off as he cracks his knuckles. Not gonna lie, he’s pretty menacing.
The hair on the back of my neck stands straight up. He doesn’t see it, does he? There’s no way I could do anywhere near the amount of damage to him that he could inflict on me. If I broke the rules Olga has drummed into me since I was six and told anyone about his haunting, his family would bury me. If he so much as whispered the wrong word about me into the wrong ear?
I’m not going back to the mental hospital. “I get it. People get the wrong idea about you, and doors close.” I switch to my calm-and-steady voice. “You should be more worried about Janice.”
I am. It’s only been a few weeks and she’s already talking about what happened?
Deep breaths. Slow and steady. I can handle this. A quick glance at the clock tells me another fifteen minutes have ticked by. No way I can risk his parents finding me here.
“Yeah, I know but…we were at a party,” he says, looking sheepish.
Great. Drunkenly sharing ghost stories. What could go wrong? “You don’t mess with me, I don’t do a single thing to you. No rumors, no nothing. Rule three, remember? When we’re done here, we’re done. We never met. We never had this conversation. We’re not friends and we do not hang out. If you hear about someone with a ghost problem, you give them my number. Otherwise? You don’t mention me—ever.”
Like anyone wants me to hang around afterwards anyway, but saying it up front takes the drama out of the mix. This way, no one gets disappointed—especially me.
Andre stares at me, then nods. “Fair. So what now?”
Now we find out if I made a huge mistake for coming here. “Flashlight?”
He picks up a huge one at the ready. He really did do the reading. Huh.
“Let’s find your ghost.”
The clock is ticking.