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Where The Heart Is

Bay City Paranormal Investigations book 6

Ally Blue

Copyright 1st edition © 2009 Ally Blue

Copyright 2nd edition © 2018 Ally Blue

Cover art: Brent Brown,

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This book is a second edition. Original edition released in 2009, edited by Sasha Knight. Story has been minimally re-edited by the author for this edition.

To the lovely town of Carrboro, NC, one of my favorite places. Especially Weaver Street Market, and The Open Eye. And Carrburritos. And Med Deli. And Cat’s Cradle. And the friends I used to have so much fun with there. I miss y’all!

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

About the Author

Chapter One

Carrboro’s Weaver Street Market was a veritable Godiva Gold Collection of eye candy. Especially on sunny, unseasonably warm Saturday afternoons in early January. The faint lingering nip in the air wasn’t nearly enough to discourage the crowds of aging hippies, families, and college students from congregating on the Market’s wide lawn and outdoor tables.

Slouched on a bench beneath a spreading oak, legs stretched out in front of him, Dean Delapore pulled down his black shades and aimed a smoldering look at the doe-eyed young man watching him from across the shaded lawn. The boy gave him a coy smile.

The bench moved as someone plopped down beside Dean. He turned to face Kerry Shiffer, one of the friends he’d come here to visit. “Did you get your ice cream?”

“It’s not ice cream, it’s gelato.” Fishing in her canvas grocery bag, Kerry pulled out a small brown and white container. “Organic and locally produced by Green Fields Creamery.”

“Of course.” Dean slid his shades back into place and lifted his face to the winter sunshine. “I’m glad you and Ron talked me into coming up here to visit. Y’all know how much I love my job, but I seriously needed a vacation. We’ve been up to our eyeballs in freaky cases lately.”

Kerry turned sideways on the bench and tucked a leg underneath her, one hand absently rubbing her six-months-pregnant belly. “Well, we’re both glad you could come up. With the baby coming Ron needs to save up his time off, and we both need to hang on to our money. But we wanted to see you. It’s been way too long.”

“It sure has.” Putting an arm around Kerry’s shoulders, Dean kissed the top of her curly auburn head. “I miss college some days. The three of us had some great times together here at UNC.”

“We sure did.” Kerry planted a kiss on Dean’s cheek, patted his knee and rose to her feet. “Come on, let’s head back now. Ron should be home soon.”

“Cool.” Dean jumped up and fell into step beside Kerry. “I hate that he had to go in to work today.”

She shrugged. “That’s what he gets for being the only one there who actually knows how the hell their computer network functions, I guess. At least it’s only for a little while.”

“Yeah.” Sticking his hands in his back pockets, Dean grinned at a gap-toothed little girl who waved at him from atop a nearby brick planter. “I don’t blame y’all a bit for settling here. It’s a great town. Always has been.”

“Yeah. I’m just glad this warm snap hung around for your visit. It’s usually colder than this in January.” She gave him a sidelong glance as they crossed the street and headed down the hill past colorful shops and restaurants. “I wish you could stay longer.”

“Me too. But Bay City Paranormal could only spare me for a couple of weeks.”

Kerry wrinkled her freckled nose. “I don’t see why they couldn’t let you off for longer.”

Dean laughed. “Bo was willing to let me off for a month, but I told him I’d only take two weeks. It’s a small business, and we’ve been super busy lately. They need me.”

“Yeah, but still—”

“Kerry, I love you, but give it a rest, huh?” Dean nudged Kerry’s shoulder. “I don’t mind. Really. Like I said, I love my job. And I love my coworkers. They’re a great group.”

Her round face lit up, blue eyes sparkling. “Any of them you love more than the others?”

Shaking his head, Dean pushed the “walk” button at the next corner. “You know me, Kerry. I don’t tie myself down.”

She shot him a careful look. “You would have, once. Please tell me she didn’t totally destroy your ability to settle down with somebody else.”

At that moment, Dean was grateful he had his sunglasses on. He didn’t want Kerry to see his eyes, because she was right. Sharon had been his first real love. The first person, male or female, with whom he’d seriously considered having a permanent relationship. When she found out he was bisexual and had slept with men, she’d left him. He didn’t like to admit, even to himself, just how painful that had been. Or just how much it had affected his life since.

“I got over Sharon a long time ago,” he said softly. “Believe me, if I find Mr. or Ms. Right, what happened with Sharon won’t stop me from hanging onto them. I just haven’t found that person yet, that’s all.”

“So it’s got to be true love forever, or no deal?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

Pursing her lips, Kerry picked at a loose thread on her long red skirt. “Nothing, I guess. It just seems kind of lonely to me.”

“I date a lot, I get laid a lot, but I still get my own space with no one telling me I can’t have beer and Fritos for dinner or lay around watching TV in my underwear. That’s not lonely, that’s the best of both worlds.”

He refused to acknowledge the small but growing part of him which longed to wake up every morning with his arms around someone he loved. To spend a lifetime learning that person inside and out. It didn’t seem likely to happen, and he saw no point in mourning something he’d probably never have. Especially since it was his own tendency to hold himself back that kept him from having the kind of relationship he wanted.

Kerry frowned at him, but before she could say anything her cell phone trilled. She shot him a “this conversation isn’t over” look as she fished the phone out of her purse and flipped it open.

“Hey, babe,” she said, eyes sparkling like they always did when she talked to her husband. “We’re on our way back from the Market, are you already home?”

Tuning out his friends’ conversation, Dean stuck his hands in his back pockets and gazed around him. Just ahead, the town’s newest Thai restaurant had its front doors flung open, letting out a spicy, mouthwatering scent. Next door, customers wandered in and out of a bookstore specializing in rare and out-of-print volumes. A wave of lilting violins drifted from the music store across the street.

At the next corner, two young men crossed the street with their arms around each other. The blond tilted up the brunet’s face and kissed him. Dean smiled, the sight bringing a mix of conflicting emotions. Mobile, where he’d been born and raised and still lived, wasn’t a particularly dangerous place for gay men, but neither was it a place where a man could kiss another man in public without any thought to the possible consequences.

Sometimes, he really missed the open and accepting attitudes here in Carrboro and neighboring Chapel Hill.

“Well, crap.” Snapping the cell phone closed, Kerry shoved it into her purse. “Ron’s not done yet. He’s got to stay at work until probably mid-afternoon.”

“Aw, damn.”

“He’s taking a break right now. He’s headed over to The Open Eye. I told him we’d meet him there.”

“Cool.” Dean glanced at the shopping bag hanging from Kerry’s arm. “What about your gelato? It’ll melt.”

She grinned at him. “We’ll go ahead and eat it. It goes great with the organic Sumatran dark roast.”

“Awesome.” Taking Kerry’s hand, Dean led her across the busy street. “Do they still have those chocolate croissants?”


“Fantastic. I haven’t had one of those in years.”

Laughing, Kerry pushed open the door of Carrboro’s most popular coffee shop. Dean shoved his shades up on top of his head and breathed in the heavenly scents of baked goods and fresh-brewed coffee. It was the smell of college mornings spent huddled over the colorful tables with his friends, discussing classes, music, girls or boys they wanted to get into bed. All the things that seemed so important then, with the world at their feet and all their lives ahead of them.

Time had a way of teaching a person what was truly important, Dean reflected as he and Kerry took their place in line. Friends. Family. Partners. If there was one thing Dean had learned in his life, it was that nothing mattered as much as keeping the people he loved close, and letting them know how much they meant to him. He liked to think he lived by that creed, and that his friends and family knew how he treasured them.

He ignored the empty ache inside for a love like Kerry and Ron shared.

Behind him, the shrill tinkle of the bell on the door announced an arrival to the shop. A shoulder clipped Dean’s as someone rushed past the line and straight to the counter, sending Dean stumbling into Kerry. A woman passing on her other side caught her elbow, narrowly preventing a fall.

“Hey, watch it,” Dean called, scowling at the back of the man who’d run into him. “Pregnant lady here, huh? You almost made me knock her over.”

The man turned, blinking in surprise as his large brown eyes lit on Kerry. “Kerry? Oh my God I’m sorry! I’m just in kind of a rush, and wasn’t looking where…” He stopped, blowing out a breath. One long, slender hand raked through shaggy shoulder-length hair the color of redwood. “Sorry. Listen, y’all come out to my place tonight for karaoke, I’ll give you dinner.”

Kerry laughed. “We’d love to come for karaoke, but you don’t need to feed us.”

“But I—”

“You were in a hurry, and you accidentally ran into someone,” Kerry finished. “It happens. I’m fine, don’t worry about it.”

The stranger bit his lower lip, and Dean’s breath caught. Something about the nervous action and the uncertain look in those huge, expressive eyes made Dean want to pull the man into his arms and comfort him.

“I’d still love it if you and Ron came for karaoke. Y’all haven’t been out for at least a month.” His gaze flicked sideways to Dean, then back again, as if he wasn’t sure he should speak to him. “And you can bring, um, guests.” He darted another look at Dean, this one sizzling with curiosity. “Um, yeah. See you later.”

The man turned and leaned against the counter, talking low and fast to the young woman on the other side. Dean stared, admiring the slim, tight lines of the stranger’s body. Black jeans hugged long legs and the sweetest ass Dean had seen in ages. A pale blue shirt with the tails hanging out and the sleeves rolled up set off the man’s deep red hair and golden skin tone perfectly.

“Who’s that?” Dean asked, nudging Kerry’s elbow. “He’s hot.”

Kerry grinned. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?” He tilted his head sideways to better view the curve of buttock and thigh as the man shifted from foot to foot.

“Pick out the gay ones, every time.” Kerry slapped him on the butt. “Are you listening?”

“I didn’t know he was gay. I just thought he was hot.” Dean flashed his friendliest smile as the man turned around and hurried toward the door carrying a large paper bag. The man blushed and looked away, but Dean saw the way the corners of his mouth turned up as he passed. Dean swiveled around to watch the man walk out the door. “Oh yeah. Smokin’ hot. So who is he?”

Snickering, Kerry stepped up to the counter and ordered two organic Sumatrans before turning back to Dean. “That’s Sommer Skye. He’s a good friend of mine and Ron’s.”

Dean laughed. “Sommer Skye? What the hell were his parents thinking?”

“They were serious hippies.” Kerry held her hand out. Dean handed her two dollars, which she gave to the girl behind the counter along with her own money. Taking the change, Kerry picked up the huge indigo mug the clerk handed her and led Dean toward a table containing carafes of soy milk and half-and-half, packets of raw sugar and a small pitcher of honey. “They disappeared four years ago. Nobody’s seen or heard a trace of them since. It’s kind of a sore spot with Sommer, so do not say anything, okay?”

“Cross my heart.” Dean stirred honey and a generous amount of half-and-half into his coffee and took a cautious sip from the orange and yellow mug. “Oh man, that’s good. So, we’re going to his place tonight, huh?”

“Yep.” Kerry poured a packet of raw sugar and a dollop of soy milk into her coffee and stirred. “He owns the Blue Skye Inn and Winery just outside town. It’s a cool place, you’ll love it. He’s set up the wine shop and tasting room in the old barn, and he has Karaoke Night there every Saturday. Five bucks a head, and you get one complimentary glass of his chardonnay and as much karaoke as you can handle. Half the town turns out for it, it’s a real blast.”

“Sounds like it.” Dean followed Kerry to a small round table bathed in sunshine pouring through the wall-to-wall windows. As he slid into the chair, he caught sight of a tall, lanky man chaining a bicycle to the rack outside. “Hey, there’s Ron.”

Kerry’s face lit up. She tapped on the window. Ron looked up, smiled and waved at her. She waved back, beaming. Dean chuckled. His friends had been married for seven years, and had dated all through college, but they were still head over heels for each other, and it showed. It was seriously adorable.

Ron swung the door open and bounded in, gray eyes shining. Flipping his long golden ponytail over his shoulder, he slid into the chair beside Kerry and put an arm around her. “Hey, babe.”

“Hey yourself.” She tilted her face up for a kiss. “We’re going to Sommer’s for karaoke tonight.”

“Okay, cool. I’ll be home by four, so no problem.” Ron’s bearded face broke into a wide grin as he leaned over to clap Dean on the shoulder. “He’s single, and Kerry says he’s cute. Want me to set you up?”

“No need, I can handle it. But thanks anyway.” Dean took a sip of his coffee, licking the rich, dark taste from his lips. “By the way, he is beyond cute. He’s gorgeous. Just so you know.”

Ron’s eyebrows shot up. “When did you meet him?”

“I didn’t. Yet. But I sure am looking forward to it.”

“Sommer was in here just before you got here,” Kerry explained, answering the puzzled look on her husband’s face. “He was in a rush and didn’t stay for introductions, but Dean noticed him. Big surprise, I know. I told him we’d come out for karaoke.”

Ron chuckled. “Sommer’s always in a rush. Was he in here getting coffee beans again?”

“Most likely. I noticed Weaver Street Market was out of that fair trade Mexican blend he serves at the Inn.” Kerry glanced at Dean. “He usually gets all his stuff at the Market, but he comes here for his beans when they’re out at Weaver Street.”

Dean nodded over his coffee cup. “Very Carrboro of him. I like that in a man.”

“You have to try his zinfandel tonight, Dean,” Ron said, leaning back in his chair and stretching. “You’ll get a free glass of chardonnay, but the zinfandel’s out of this world. He’ll give you a free taste, if you want.”

An array of decidedly impure mental images flashed through Dean’s mind. He rested his chin in his hand. “You think he’d give me a free taste of anything else? I promise to ask nicely.”

“I’m sure he would. He’s got merlot, Pinot Grigio, and—” Ron stopped, his face flushing pink. “Oh. Dean, you have a filthy mind.”

“That can’t possibly surprise you at this point.” Kerry took a long swallow of coffee. “You want me to order you a coffee, hon?”

“Naw, I’ll get it.” Yawning, Ron rose to his feet. “Y’all want anything else while I’m up?”

“A spoon.” Kerry held up her bag. “I have gelato.”

“Oh yeah, and I wanted a chocolate croissant. Mr. Hotpants distracted me.” Pushing away from the table, Dean stood and dug his wallet out of his pocket. “I’ll come with you, Ron.”

“Cool.” Leaning down, Ron kissed his wife’s forehead, then followed Dean to the counter. He shot Dean a keen look. “You look tired. Is everything all right back in Mobile?”

“Yeah, it’s fine. The last few months have been kind of…” He trailed off, not knowing quite what to say about all he’d experienced since joining Bay City Paranormal. “It’s been weird,” he said finally.

“That’s what you get when you work for a paranormal investigations agency.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Dean smiled at his friend. “It’s good to be back here. I missed y’all.”

“Same here, man.” Sweeping Dean into a tight hug, Ron planted a kiss on each cheek. “It’s been ages since we got to hang out.”

Before Dean could answer, Kerry’s voice rang out across the crowded shop. “You guys can make out if you want, but no threesomes. Only wholesome family sex around the baby.”

Ron raised his eyebrows. He and Dean cracked up at the same time, along with half the customers in the shop.

Oh yeah, Dean thought as he let go of Ron and waited to place his order. I’ve missed these people, and this place.

Of course, just because Carrboro and Chapel Hill held so much nostalgia for him didn’t mean there were no new memories to be made here. With any luck, some of those new memories would involve a slender, dark-eyed inn-and-winery owner between his legs.

He grinned. Karaoke Night, here I come.

Chapter Two

“Here we are,” Ron announced, guiding the old red Nova into a narrow gravel lane. A wooden sign beside the road spelled out Blue Skye Inn & Winery in deep red letters against a pale blue background. “Wow, it’s crowded tonight.”

“I’ll say. Is it always like this?” Dean gazed around from the backseat, taking it all in. About one hundred yards ahead, the gravel lane expanded into a huge gravel parking area. It was packed with cars. Even the row of bike racks along one side was full. On the far side of the parking lot stood a tremendous wooden structure which had clearly begun life as a barn and been added onto over the years. It was painted sky blue with the name of the business over the entrance in red letters, matching the sign by the road. Light, music, and laughter poured from the doorway as patrons entered in a steady stream.

Dean grinned. He liked it already.

Kerry turned in her seat. “It’s not usually quite this bad, but it’s always busy on Saturday. Karaoke Night’s pretty popular.”

“I think it’s a parents’ weekend at the college, or maybe a game. Something going on at UNC, though, which is probably why it’s so crowded.” Squinting against the light of the sunset, Ron pointed ahead and to the left. “Babe, is that an empty spot?”

Kerry pulled her sunglasses off and looked where Ron was pointing. “Yeah. It’s close to the front too. Grab it before someone else does.”

Nodding, Ron sped up and eased the Nova into the space. “Dean, you gonna sing for us?”

Dean considered as they all climbed out of the car. “Depends. What do they have?”

“Oh, everything.” Ron locked the car door and pocketed the keys. “Classic country, pop hits from the forties to now, show tunes, even some really freaky-ass obscure shit.”

Laughing, Kerry slid an arm around her husband’s waist as he walked up to her and they joined the throng heading toward the barn. “You remember that song Fish Heads?”

“Yeah, it’s on my iPod.” Dean widened his eyes at her. “What, you mean they have that?”

“They do,” Ron said. “Want to duet on that one?”

“Hell yeah.” Sticking his hands in his jacket pockets, Dean drew a deep breath. The chilly evening air smelled of grass and sunshine. Behind the barn and to the right, Dean caught sight of a large, Victorian-style farmhouse with a wide covered porch. The white paint glowed orange with the sunset light. “Is that the Inn?” he asked, nodding toward the building.

Kerry nodded. “Yeah. Cute, huh?”

“Mm-hm.” Dean slowed to get a good look at the building. “Very romantic looking.”

“It’s haunted,” Ron said, glancing over his shoulder at Dean.

Groaning, Kerry smacked Ron’s arm. “You weren’t supposed to tell him that, you dork.”

An expression of almost comic dismay crossed Ron’s face. “Oh, that’s right. Oops.”

With one last curious glance at the Inn, Dean trotted to catch up with his friends. He gave them both a stern look. “Why would y’all not want to tell me that?”

Kerry took his hand and squeezed it. “I know you, Dean. You’re gonna want to know all about the ghosts, and you’re gonna want to investigate, even if it’s an unofficial investigation. I’m selfish. I don’t want to share you while you’re here.”

Touched, Dean leaned down and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Hey, I came all the way up here to get away from work, remember? I’m curious, sure, but I’m not about to let that get in the way of hanging out with y’all.”

Kerry smiled. “Good.”

When they reached the entrance to the barn, Dean dug a five-dollar bill out of his back pocket and handed it to the smiling middle-aged woman at the door. After checking his ID, she stamped his hand and gave him a dark blue ticket which he was informed was the voucher for his free glass of chardonnay. Thanking her, he followed a plump girl in a Blue Skye polo shirt and jeans across the floor. Kerry and Ron trailed behind, talking quietly.

Tapping the edge of the ticket against his lower lip, Dean gazed around in delight. The room they’d entered was enormous, with a clean-swept floor of rough wooden planks. The only light came from small red-shaded lamps on each table. The high ceiling was lost in shadows. Antique wine-making equipment sat displayed at intervals along the walls, with little plaques beside them explaining their history and use. Oak barrels with wide, round wooden tops formed the tables at which a variety of people sat sipping wine, laughing and talking. A few of the customers were dressed up, but most wore jeans, sweaters, and other casual clothes. Unsurprisingly, the crowd tended heavily toward college age. With the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill within a few minutes drive, it was no wonder Blue Skye was so popular.

“This place is great,” Dean declared as they took their place at a table near a low, shallow stage. The girl who’d seated them collected their wine tickets. “How long’s it been here? I don’t remember it from when we were in college.”

Leaning back in her chair, Kerry rubbed her belly. “It was here, but it wasn’t Blue Skye then. It was Mother Nature’s Grape.”

Dean’s eyebrows shot up. “That organic vineyard? Now that I remember. I saw the owners a couple of times at the Market.”

Glancing around, Ron leaned closer. “The owners were Sommer’s parents. Stormy and Sunny Skye, remember?”

“I don’t think I ever knew their names.” Dean ran a hand through his hair, shoving the long bangs out of his eyes. “So when did it become Blue Skye?”

“Nineteen-ninety-eight,” Kerry answered. “They decided to change the name and open up their house as a bed and breakfast.”

Before Dean could ask the question foremost in his mind—what about the haunting?—a small, slender young man with pink-streaked blond curls approached the table carrying two glasses of pale yellow wine and a cup of juice on a tray. “Here you go,” he said, flashing a wide smile. He set the wineglasses in front of Dean and Ron and handed Kerry the juice. “You folks need anything else?”

Kerry and Ron both answered in the negative. Leaning his elbows on the table, Dean grinned at the boy. “I’d like to meet the owner, actually, is he around?”

The waiter’s blue eyes widened. “You want to meet Sommer?”

“Yes,” Dean answered firmly. “I do.”

The young man shrugged. “Well, I can ask him.”

At that moment, Dean caught sight of the man himself making his way through the crowd. He seemed to be headed right for their table. “Actually, never mind,” Dean said. “Here he comes now.”

The young man glanced up and waved at Sommer. “Okay. I’m Cody, let me know if you need anything else.”

Dean nodded, not even looking as Cody moved to the next table. He couldn’t take his eyes off the man coming toward them. When he thought about it, he wasn’t even sure exactly what it was that made Sommer Skye so heart-thumpingly sexy. He was certainly an attractive man, with those huge brown eyes and the deep red hair framing a sensual, rather androgynous face. He had the type of build Dean usually preferred as well—lean, slim, and athletic, his muscles streamlined rather than bulky. But those physical traits were not the reason the sight of the man made his mouth go dry and his palms sweat. No, it was something less tangible. Something about the way he moves, or the look in his eyes, Dean mused, taking a sip of his wine.

Sommer stopped at every table as he made his way toward where Dean, Ron, and Kerry sat. He seemed to know practically everyone, and he had a smile and a friendly word for all of them. Dean found himself fascinated by the way the right side of Sommer’s mouth would rise first, making his smile adorably lopsided. The way the man looked every person right in the eye, holding their gaze as if each one of them was the only person on the planet, piqued Dean’s curiosity. It was very different from how he’d behaved at The Open Eye, and Dean wondered why the turnaround.

Finally, Sommer moved away from the elderly couple he’d been talking to and sauntered up to Ron, Kerry, and Dean’s table. “Hi,” he said, flashing that impossibly sweet smile. “Glad y’all could come tonight.”

“Me too. We love Karaoke Night.” Ron gestured toward Dean. “Sommer, I’d like you to meet an old friend, Dean Delapore. He went to college here with Kerry and me.”

Sommer’s cheeks pinked as he turned and held out a hand to Dean. “Nice to meet you, Dean. I’m Sommer Skye. Yes, it’s my real name.”

“Good to meet you too, Sommer.” Dean shook Sommer’s hand, fighting the urge to pounce on him and cuddle him like a kitten. The man’s blush and the sudden shyness in those big, pretty eyes did all kinds of interesting things to Dean’s insides. “I like your name. It’s cool.”

Sommer laughed and shrugged, retrieving his hand and coiling the fingers nervously in his hair. “I don’t think anybody’s ever said that before.”

Leaning forward in his seat, Dean gave Sommer his very best seductive smile. “Excellent. That means you’ll remember me.”

Sommer’s blush deepened, and Kerry snorted. “He’s flirting with you, Sommer. Just tell him to quit.”

Dean glared at her. She raised her eyebrows at him.

“It’s okay,” Sommer said, his voice soft but clearly flattered. “I don’t mind.”

Sticking his tongue out at Kerry and ignoring Ron’s resulting laugh, Dean turned his attention back to Sommer. “So, Sommer. Kerry tells me you have a haunted house. Is that right?”

Sommer’s smile faded, his expression turning cautious. “Yes, it is.”

Dean frowned. Obviously, he’d hit a nerve. “I’m sorry.” He laid a hand on Sommer’s arm. “You don’t have to tell me about it if you’d rather not. It’s just that I work for a paranormal investigations agency, so hauntings of all types fascinate me. You can tell me to shut up any time, it won’t hurt my feelings any.”

Sommer pinned Dean with a searching look, teeth capturing his lower lip in a way that threatened to make Dean lose his concentration. “Actually, Dean, I’d kind of like to talk to you about the house, if you have time.”

Yes! He is so fucking me tonight! Forcing back the whoop of triumph which wanted to come out, Dean nodded. “Sure, that would be great.” He turned to Kerry and Ron with a question in his eyes. “Guys?”

Kerry sighed. “Okay, okay. Just don’t stay out too late.”

Ron snickered. “Don’t pay any attention to her, she’s just practicing her mama skills.”

Kerry elbowed him in the ribs, and Dean laughed. “Maybe Sommer and I can sneak off for a few minutes after karaoke. I can always come back later if you want to talk more, Sommer.”

“Yeah. Or I…” Sommer’s gaze dropped to the floor, veiling his eyes behind long, dark lashes. “I could drive you back to their place. After we…um, talk.”

Ron and Kerry gave Dean identical knowing looks. He ignored them. “Sommer, that would be fabulous. Thank you.”

Sommer looked up, his gaze meeting Dean’s. The spark in his eyes made Dean’s heart thump. “My pleasure. I’m looking forward to talking to you.” He turned to smile at Ron and Kerry. “See y’all later.”

Dean licked his lips as Sommer pivoted and walked away. The way that firm little ass moved in the snug jeans enthralled him.

Something bounced off Dean’s forehead and onto the table. He blinked at Kerry, who’d thrown a rolled-up bit of paper napkin at him. “What?”

She shook her head, amusement written all over her face. “Do not try to get Sommer into bed tonight. It won’t work.”

Dean crossed his arms. “Bet it will.”

“No way, man,” Ron chimed in. “Sommer’s great at working the crowd here, but he is seriously shy one-on-one.”

Kerry nodded. “Especially with people he doesn’t know.”

Especially especially with people he doesn’t know but wants to get between the sheets,” Ron added.

Kerry glared at her husband. “You’re not helping.”

Laughing, Dean leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his wine. “Don’t yell at Ron. I already knew Mr. Skye wanted to fuck me.”

Kerry sighed and shook her head as Dean and Ron both snickered. “Whatever. Just don’t spend the rest of the visit moping if he turns you down.”

“He won’t.” Shoving away the part of him which felt cold at the thought of another one-night stand, Dean flashed his most brilliant smile. “Now who’s gonna sing some Elvis with me?”

Kerry and Ron left two hours later, leaving Dean with hugs and, in Kerry’s case, stern warnings not to try to sweet talk Sommer into sex if he was reluctant. Ron rolled his eyes behind Kerry’s back as they started across the room, and Dean bit back a laugh. Sommer wanted him. The heat in the man’s eyes when he looked at Dean made that clear beyond a doubt. Even Ron saw it. Kerry, usually much more observant about such things, couldn’t possibly have missed it. Maybe, Dean mused, she felt protective of Sommer because of his obvious shyness.

It was a feeling Dean thought he could understand. Something about Sommer made Dean want to shield him from all the hurtful things in the world.

From his spot at the table, Dean saw Sommer stop and speak to his friends at the door. Turning around, Kerry waved over her shoulder at Dean, then left the barn hand in hand with Ron. Dean picked up the glass of zinfandel he’d bought and took a long swallow as Sommer weaved around the emptying tables toward him.

“Hi, Dean,” Sommer said, leaning a hand on the chair beside Dean’s. “Walk up to the house with me? I’ll tell you about my ghosts, and I can show you around if you want.”

Dean grinned at the nervous quaver in Sommer’s voice. Oh yeah. I’m getting laid. “That would be awesome. Let’s go.”

Pushing his chair back, Dean stood and trailed Sommer toward a small door behind the bar in the back. He was close enough to smell the man’s musky cologne, underlaid with a hint of sweat. Dean breathed deep, trying not to be too obvious.

They rounded the bar and slipped through the back door into the night. Hunching his shoulders against the chill, Dean gazed around the grounds. A wide, neatly trimmed lawn stretched from the barn to the vineyard. The bare vines rasped together in the light wind. Overhead, the waxing moon shed a soft silver glow over the scene. Dean found it unbearably romantic.

Moving closer to Sommer, Dean gave him his friendliest smile. “So tell me about your ghosts.”

Sommer shot him a shy sidelong grin which made him want to rip the man’s clothes off and throw him down on the manicured grass. “What would you like to know?”

“What exactly you’ve experienced, where and when, and for how long.” Dean accidentally-on-purpose brushed Sommer’s arm with his, savoring the resulting hitch in Sommer’s breath. “Anything you can think of, really. Every detail can help determine what sort of haunting it is, and what if anything can be done about it.”

Sommer nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face. “That makes sense.”

“So tell me all about it.”

Sommer glanced at him again, a mixture of curiosity and fear in his eyes, but didn’t say anything. Dean waited, content just to walk together through the moonlit night. A breeze rustled through the bare branches of the trees clustered behind the house, bringing with it the sounds of music and laughter from the barn, and the lingering smell of sun-warmed grass. Finally, as they approached the wide, shallow steps leading to the front porch of the Inn, Sommer stopped and turned to Dean with a determined expression.

“I see a mist forming,” he said, his voice low and quiet. “It rises from the floor in the kitchen, hovers there for a minute, then floats out the back door. It doesn’t make a sound, or interact with me in any way. But I…” He drew a deep breath, his gaze skittering away to rest on the huge wooden swing swaying from the branch of a large oak in front of the house. “I can feel it watching me. Like it expects me to do something, but I don’t know what.”

Intrigued, Dean leaned against the steps’ railing and regarded Sommer with keen interest. “Has anyone else seen this?”

Sommer nodded without looking at Dean. “Yeah. The cook, Lisa, saw it once, when I was in the kitchen with her.”

“Is she the only one?”

“So far, yes.”

“So far?”

“I’ve only had the Inn for four years, since my parents…” Sommer stared at the ground. “Well, they went missing. No clues to where they’d gone, or what might’ve happened to them. They just vanished.” Raising his head again, Sommer met Dean’s gaze with a surprisingly strong defiance in his own. “I’m an only child, there was no one else to look after this place, so I quit my job in Oregon and moved to Chapel Hill to take over the business. I’ve been seeing the mist ever since I first moved in, and no one’s seen it except when they’ve been with me.”

Moved by something he didn’t quite understand, Dean reached out and laid a hand on Sommer’s shoulder. “How often do you see this mist?” he asked, keeping his tone calm.

“A couple of times a week, usually.”

Dean pursed his lips, thinking hard. “Did you live here, in this house, before you lived in Oregon?”

Sommer shook his head. “No. In fact, my parents were—are—from Portland. They moved here when I was fifteen. I didn’t want to leave home, so they let me stay with my Aunt Katherine. I’d never been here until Mom and Dad turned up missing.”

“Hm.” Pushing away from the railing, Dean slid his hand down Sommer’s arm, making sure to brush their fingers together before drawing away. “Hey, can we go inside? It’s getting cold out here, and I’d love to see the kitchen, if that’s okay.”

Sommer’s face brightened into one of those sweet, crooked smiles which made Dean’s stomach flutter like he’d swallowed a flock of small birds. “That would be great. I have a few guests coming in tomorrow, but the place is empty tonight. We’ll have it to ourselves. I can show you everything.”

The implications in Sommer’s words were not lost on Dean. He took Sommer’s arm and smiled up at him, letting his lust shine on his face. “I like that idea.”

Sommer’s eyelids fluttered downward. His blush was clearly visible in the bright moonlight. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it again and shook his head. His gaze darted up again, meeting Dean’s, and Dean caught his breath at the fire in the man’s eyes. Before Dean could say a word, Sommer’s hand clamped onto the back of his neck and pulled him into a rough, demanding kiss.

Chapter Three

For a split second, sheer surprise held Dean immobile. He knew Sommer wanted him, and he was confident they’d end up in bed before the night was out, but he’d expected to take the initiative himself. He never would have guessed Sommer would be this aggressive.

The thoughts fleeted through Dean’s brain in the space of a heartbeat, then Sommer’s tongue darted into his mouth and anything resembling rational thought went right out the window. With a low moan, Dean clutched Sommer close and tilted his head to deepen the kiss.

One long, graceful hand slid down to cup Dean’s ass through his snug jeans, the ones he’d worn specifically because they displayed his backside to best advantage. Dean returned the favor, grabbing a double handful of well-toned rear end and squeezing as Sommer attempted to suck his tongue out. Sommer groaned, the hand on Dean’s neck moving up to tangle in his hair.

Dean whimpered when Sommer’s knee pushed between his legs. He rubbed himself shamelessly against the firm thigh.

“Let’s go inside,” Dean breathed the second Sommer broke the kiss to bite at the juncture of neck and shoulder. “God, if you fuck as good as you kiss it’ll probably kill me but I don’t care.”

Sommer’s chuckle vibrated against Dean’s throat. “No one’s ever complained. Not that I’m in the habit of taking men I just met to bed.”

“Mmm.” Dean arched his neck for Sommer’s nibbles and kisses. “I’d ask you why you’re taking me to bed, but I don’t care just as long as you fuck me through the mattress.”

To Dean’s relief, Sommer didn’t seem inclined to answer the question Dean had half-asked. Pulling out of Dean’s arms, Sommer grabbed his hand and started dragging him up the steps to the porch. “Come on. There’s lube and condoms in my bedroom.”

Dean’s insides clenched. Oh, my. I think I like him bossy. Grinning, he let himself be led inside.

The front door was barely shut behind them when Sommer slammed Dean against the wall for another invasive kiss. Dean moaned, tremors running through his body at the feel of Sommer’s hands sliding up under his shirt. As far as Dean was concerned, there was nothing better than a forceful man. He never would’ve pegged Sommer Skye for one of those men, but he wasn’t about to complain. The contrast between Sommer’s shy, polite public self and the man currently eating at Dean’s mouth was exciting as hell.

God, I hope he’s this take-charge in bed. Dean shoved a hand down the back of Sommer’s jeans, fingertip just dipping into the crease of his ass. Sommer growled and shoved his tongue deep into Dean’s mouth, and Dean mentally congratulated himself. Showing a bit of aggressiveness of his own, he’d found, usually brought out the animal in his bed partners. The male ones, anyhow. The women loved it when he went all Alpha on them, but in those cases he was forced to keep on playing the dominant role. He much preferred making himself submissive. Especially to a man like Sommer, whose dominant tendencies evidently only came out in the bedroom.

Bedroom. We should be in the bedroom right now. “Bedroom,” Dean mumbled, the word slurred by kisses. “Where?”

Sommer waved a hand toward a half-open door to Dean’s left. “There.” Seemingly in no hurry to move, Sommer tilted Dean’s head back by the hair and ran a smooth wet tongue up his throat.

“Oh God,” Dean breathed, hanging onto Sommer’s shoulders to keep from collapsing in a heap on the floor. “Can…can we go in there? You’re making my legs not work.”

He felt Sommer’s lips curl into a smile. “Good.”

Sommer’s hand crept between Dean’s thighs, cupping his crotch, and he whimpered. “Please.

Laughing, Sommer drew away, letting a hand slide down to clasp Dean’s. “I like how you beg.”

“I like how you make me want to beg.” Dean slipped an arm around Sommer’s waist and hung on to one of the belt loops on the black jeans. His legs felt like rubber bands, making it difficult to walk. “I’ve been wanting to spread my legs for you ever since you walked into The Open Eye this afternoon.”

Shoving the bedroom door open, Sommer dragged Dean inside and kicked the door shut again. “Are you always this easy?”

In spite of Sommer’s teasing smile and the twinkle in his eye which made it clear he wasn’t serious, a cold, ugly feeling curled in Dean’s belly. He didn’t know whether to label it shame, or simple loneliness. Both tended to thrive on years of one-night stands, of scorching but ultimately unfulfilling sex.

Either way, he didn’t like this black, empty ache which overtook him from time to time. Strangely, no-strings sex provided both the cause and the cure. He’d learned that lesson long ago, and he intended to apply it now.

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