That house in that neighborhood for that price? Claire Marshall thought she’d hit the jackpot. Her company would restore the old house to its previous glory and sell it at a huge profit. She hadn’t counted on the runaway girl hiding in the upstairs bedroom, the brutal gang chasing her, or the angry ghost who may or may not be keeping the gang at bay.
The neighbors are delighted that someone is fixing up the neighborhood eyesore and happy to share what they know about the ghost. Her name is Dorcas, and she died after falling down the stairs. How she happened to fall is a mystery. The little girl whose memory holds the key is now middle-aged, her mind irreparably damaged by a lobotomy.
Claire’s business partner wants to write off their investment and walk away, her workers don’t want to go inside, but Claire doesn’t believe in ghosts or in giving up without a fight.
Another, bigger battle she faces involves her heart. Dare she trust the man she loves? Tony is back on the Grand Prix circuit, driving in a racing season marred by fatal accidents, and, according the media, finding comfort in the arms of another woman.
Just when Claire thinks that things can’t get worse, they do.
Wood screeched against wood. The noise came from the back bedroom. Claire hurried down the hall to make sure whoever was opening the window propped it open. She stopped in the doorway, surprised to see a tall skinny girl, dark-skinned, with braided hair, standing with one foot on the floor and the other on the windowsill. A plastic garbage bag was slung over her shoulder, and she looked ready to jump.
"Hey, stop. It's a long way down." Claire ran over and pulled her back into the room.
The girl squirmed and kicked. "Let go of me."
"Relax. I'm not going to hurt you, but you really don't want to climb out that window. The sun porch is gone. Look. See for yourself."
The window on the side wall squeaked open then slammed shut. Startled, Claire loosened her grip. The window bounced open then slammed again. The girl twisted free and swung the garbage bag. It caught Claire on the side of her head and knocked her into the wall. The girl ran from the room, Claire two steps behind.
They raced down the hall. The girl leapt down the stairs, taking them two at a time. Claire's foot caught on the top step. She stumbled and would have fallen if her hand hadn't, by some miracle, found the banister. She proceeded more cautiously, losing ground with every step. The girl flew out the front door and down the walk, braids flying and long legs pounding, just as the demolition crew came running around the side of the house. Claire gave up. She leaned against the front door, panting.
"That's it. I ain't going back in there," Pete said.
"No need to get excited." Zach raised a calming hand, but it did no good.
"This house is haunted," Charlie or Banjo said. Both of them were talking at once. They'd felt the cold spot, sensed a ghostly presence, and now they'd seen her. They weren't going back inside.
Claire let them vent until her pulse and breathing returned to normal. "Gentlemen." She spoke loud enough to get their attention. "I didn't see any ghost and neither did you. There was a flesh and blood girl camping out upstairs. She tried to get away and I chased her. You all saw her. You all have seen the footprints. Ghosts don't wear sneakers and leave footprints, people do." She held out her arm. "I grabbed her, and she scratched me. See the marks."
"I heard lots more banging and crashing than one little woman chasing another," Banjo said.
Claire drew herself up to her full five eight and looked him in the eye. "She was opening a window, planning to sneak out when I found her. The window crashed shut when I grabbed her. The vibrations jarred the other window and it came loose. She tried to slow me down by slamming doors." It wasn't exactly true--the girl must have rigged some ropes to manipulate that window--but it was plausible, and Claire didn't have time to figure out what had really happened.
No one contradicted her, and she continued. "She ran, I chased her, and the two of us practically fell down the stairs."
As she said 'fell down the stairs,' Claire felt an icy hand on her arm. She hadn't fallen because someone, or something, had helped her find the banister. Lindsey, the neighbor down the street, had said that a thirteen-year-old Black girl fell down those stairs and died. It was her ghost that haunted the house. The girl she'd just chased was Black and could easily be thirteen. She could be the ghost. That was what the men had been saying.
"You heard me being clumsy," she finished weakly. It was a coincidence. The girl she had just chased was a human being.