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Last of the Ravens
Linda Winstead Jones

She didn’t have an answer for that, so she took another sip, a slow one this time as if she was savoring the warmth and the taste rather than trying to come up with a response. He imagined the liquid—tea? coffee?—on her tongue, the way she would taste it, savor it, swallow it. A woman drinking coffee should not make him hard!

“I don’t need a thing,” Miranda said, “but thanks for asking. It was very sweet of you, Mr. Korbinian.”

He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had called him sweet. Maybe never. “Call me Bren.”

Miranda’s head snapped away from him and to the side, as if she’d been alarmed by a loud noise to her right. His hearing was quite good, and he hadn’t heard a sound. She whispered low, mouthing something he couldn’t hear, then a moment later she said in a slightly louder voice, “I will not!” Then she looked at him, and her eyes were bigger than before, her face paler. “It really was nice of you to stop by but I have everything I need and I’ve come here for peace and quiet so…”

“So thanks but no thanks and get lost,” Bren said, taking a step back.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but yeah,” she said, and then again her head snapped around and she whispered so low that a man with ordinary senses would not have been able to hear, “Go away!”

Bren got into his truck, happy to make his escape. Miranda Lynch was pretty and he was most definitely drawn to her in a way he could not explain, but she was also a nut who talked to herself. It had been a while since he’d been seriously involved with any woman. His perplexing attraction to the stranger proved that he was in bad need of female companionship, but the last thing he needed in his life was a blonde with a screw loose.

“You’ve scared him away!” the ghost said. “Call him back, it’s not too late!” The ghost waved a slender hand as if Miranda should jump off the deck and chase Korbinian down the mountain.

Miranda waited until she heard the truck moving away from the cabin before she turned to the spirit. She’d seen a lot in the past four years. Murder victims. Distraught mothers who’d left their living children too soon. Ghosts who didn’t realize they were dead. Those who came back one last time to tell a loved one goodbye. This was her first actual matchmaking ghost.

“I’m on vacation,” Miranda said calmly. “Come back next week and we’ll talk.”

“Not next week,” the woman said. “Good heavens, I’ve waited for you all this time and now you want me to wait another week?” She put hands on slender hips and struck a defiant and elegant pose. “You have to get close enough to touch Bren. Once you touch him he’ll know that you’re the one. Once you touch him…”

“I have no intention of ever touching Brennus Korbinian,” Miranda said as she turned away from the ghost and headed back to her chair. The view from the deck was breathtaking, but it was difficult to enjoy with a ghost at her elbow. Still, she tried. She ignored the woman who chattered away, but she could not help but hear.

“He’s really not so gruff once you get to know him. He is quite handsome, don’t you think?”

Of course he was, but while Miranda couldn’t lie to the ghost she wasn’t about to agree aloud. She certainly didn’t want to encourage the specter in her blatant matchmaking attempt.

“I do wish he would shave more often and get an occasional haircut,” the woman said, perching on the deck railing as if she needed the support, when in fact she could just as easily have hovered on air. “But all in all he’s quite a catch.” She ticked off Korbinian’s selling points. “He’s rich, he’s handsome and he’s very attentive and kind once you get to know him.”

Miranda shooed the woman away with one hand, encouraging her to move out of the way. Her too-solid ghostly image was blocking the view.

“He’s lonely, you know, that’s why he’s occasionally gruff.”

“Move,” Miranda said simply.

The ghost smiled at her, as real and solid as any living person could be. “Tell me that you think Bren is handsome and I’ll depart to let you enjoy the scenery for a while.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“And it must be the truth,” the ghost added. “I will know if you’re trying to pacify me.”

“If I tell you with honesty that I find Brennus Korbinian handsome you’ll leave me alone?”

“For a while.”

Miranda pursed her lips. She really should not allow herself to be blackmailed by a ghost; it set a bad precedent. Still, she wanted her peace and quiet. She wanted an unobstructed view of the distant and magnificent mountains. “Fine. He’s attractive.”

“Very attractive.”

Miranda hesitated only a moment before responding. “Yes, he’s very attractive.”

“What do you find most appealing?”

“Go!” Miranda said, and at last, the ghost obeyed, leaving Miranda with an unobstructed view of a vast green paradise and a niggling sensation in her gut that robbed her of the peace that view should afford.

Since he obviously needed to get laid, as his reaction Miranda Lynch proved, Bren pondered the possibilities as he walked through the familiar grocery store aisles, mindlessly tossing staples into his cart. He hadn’t exactly been a monk, but he’d always avoided keeping a woman too long or promising more than he could give. The downside to being the last Korbinian was accepting that he would never find the one woman he could bond with, the one who could give him children and share his life. She did not exist.

He could marry, he supposed, but there would be no children, and he had never before met a woman he felt he could share his secret with. His body, yes; his secrets, never.

In order to keep his life as he wanted it—solitary—he had to keep his intimate relationships shallow and short-lived. He didn’t want any woman in his house; he didn’t want any woman thinking he could offer more than a night or two. In the past he’d had a couple of relationships that had lasted a few months, but a few months had always turned out to be too long.

Bren had almost finished checking out when he realized that the cashier was flirting with him. She smiled, she commented on each of his purchases, she leaned forward, breasts shown to their best advantage. He hadn’t seen her here before. She had the face and body a man would remember, and thick, long dark hair that had been pulled back into a massive ponytail. Tammy, according to her name tag, was the perfect solution to his current dilemma. He needed a woman who wouldn’t drive him to distraction. One he could have a little fun with and then walk away from without guilt or second thoughts. One who didn’t talk to herself and get under his skin and vacation at the cabin that was a blight on his mountain.

The problem was, this beautiful woman who was flirting outrageously did nothing for him. Nothing at all. Miranda Lynch takes a sip of coffee and he gets hard. Tammy thrusts her boobs in his direction and slowly licks her lips and looks him in the eye with an unmistakable come-hither expression—and nothing. Nada. Shit.

It was a long hike down the winding road to the gas station and convenience store at the foot of the mountain, but it was a pretty, mild spring day, and after just a few hours in the cabin Miranda found she was tired of sitting. She could only take so much vacation, apparently. Her restlessness had nothing to do with Korbinian’s morning visit, she told herself. Nothing at all.

As she walked carefully along the side of the road, Miranda admitted to herself that her friends had been right when they’d insisted that she needed some time off. She constantly pushed herself hard, feeling that with every murderer she helped to catch she was honoring Jessica’s memory. With every burden of grief she eased, she felt as if a bit of her own grief was released. The death of a beloved sister was not in vain if Miranda put the abilities that had been awakened in that accident to good use.

That didn’t mean she enjoyed reliving violent deaths and soothing the tears of those left behind. It was simply what she had to do to honor Jessica’s memory. This was not the life she had planned, but in the end it was the life she’d made. What choice did she have?

Suddenly Miranda realized she was not alone on the winding tree-lined road.

“You’re sad,” the ghost said as she kept pace with Miranda’s easy, cautious stride.

“I thought you were going away,” Miranda said without so much as altering her step. “In fact, you promised that you would.”

“Your sadness called me back,” the woman said. “We don’t have to talk about Bren if that makes you feel any better.”

Miranda sighed. “It does, actually.” She glanced at the amazingly solid-looking specter at her side. The woman appeared to be maybe fifty or so, and her dark hair had a few strands of silver-gray shot through it. She was pretty; perhaps had once been a great beauty. Unlike Miranda she was tall; she was elegant and commanding in a way a woman of five-two could never manage. “Do you have a name?”

“Of course,” the ghost answered simply. “Doesn’t everyone?” It was the same flippant answer Miranda had given Korbinian last night. Had this meddling ghost been listening in? Probably.

“What should I call you?” Miranda persisted. If the woman was going to insist on hanging around, she should call her something.

“My friends call me Dee.” The ghost looked pointedly at Miranda, her eyes amazingly alive and bright. “I believe I can call you a friend, and I promise you that you can call me the same.”

“You’re haunting me,” Miranda argued, though she had to admit that Dee had been less than tormenting. Maybe she’d been a matchmaker in life and had carried that proclivity into the afterlife. Most spirits remained earthbound for more pressing reasons, but anything was possible, she supposed. “Friends don’t haunt friends.”

“I’m only haunting you a little,” Dee said, and then she laughed lightly. “I would not feel pressed for time if you had not been so late!”

“How could I be late?” Miranda asked.

“Two years I’ve been waiting. Two years!” She didn’t sound angry, just frustrated. Dee took a deep breath. Odd, since ghosts really didn’t have to breathe. “But we’re not going to talk about that now. We’re going to talk about why you’re so sad.”

There was no use in arguing the point. “I miss my sister.”

“That’s only natural,” Dee said with sympathy.
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