Table of Contents
About the Author
excerpt from The Warewolf Upstairs
Copyright © 2010 by Ashlyn Chase
Cover and internal design © 2010 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Kathleen Lynch
Cover illustration © Monika Roe
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To my husband for being the kind of guy I write about.
Yup, these great heroes are real, folks—and I'm so
lucky I found one!
I apologize in advance if Chad the ghost is a smartass. He feels he can get away with it, since no one can do much about him—it's not as if he can be evicted, or slapped in the face. Hey, if it had been up to me, I'd have chosen a polite nineteenth-century nanny to haunt the building instead of a sarcastic journalist from the sixties, but what can I say? Who would want to murder a sweet nanny?
"When you've haunted a building since the Beatles met Ed Sullivan, you see a lot of changes," Chad said to Harold, who haunted the building across the street.
The two ghosts floated between their buildings, high enough that the air currents from traffic below didn't affect them. Still, they swayed occasionally in the autumn breeze and had to compensate to remain face to face.
Harold contemplated the elegant old brownstone sadly. "I don't like to complain, mind you, but when your new owner ripped off the roof, did he have to replace it with a God-awful glass and steel penthouse? It's an eyesore here in historic Back Bay!"
"I miss the old owner. He was a crotchety, grumpy, eccentric recluse, but he didn't change anything."
"Change comes hard for most of us, Chad—living or dead—yet change is the nature of the world. You'd think we'd get used to it after all this time. I've been going with the flow… but enough is enough."
"I know what you mean, Harold. Change can kiss my ass."
A hand reached out to her. "Would you like to dance?" She followed the line of a crisp white sleeve and looked up into the sparkling eyes of her mystery man. He had to be a GQ model to possess a face and body like that.
"Merry? What on earth are you doing?"
And just like that, Merry MacKenzie's daydream evaporated.
"Dad, I'm exhausted. I have to rest."
Merry collapsed on the worn leather sofa sitting in the middle of the sidewalk in front of a beautiful antique townhouse. She yanked an inhaler from her denim jacket, shook it vigorously, and squirted the mist into her mouth. Inhaling a deep breath, her constricted lungs eased. Ah, relief.
"We're almost done. But while you're resting, let me say this again—if you ever need or want to move back to Rhode Island, you can."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. But right now, I'm still moving into my apartment. How about letting me unpack before you make me feel guilty for leaving you?" She reclined on the sofa so she could expand her diaphragm and rest.
"Come on, Merry," her father said as he loomed over her. "One last push."
"No. I'm tapped… Gonna die now."
"I know you're tired. We've been moving your stuff into your new apartment all afternoon. Or, I should say, new to you, old by any other American's standards."
"Well, I happen to love it. Jeez, did you look around? Did you notice that thick, solid mahogany banister? I don't know how you could miss it. It practically blinds you, gleaming in the light of the crystal chandelier," she said. "Everything is in really good shape. Apparently the landlord lives in the building and made sure it was all replastered, but kept the period details like the wide crown moldings. And while you're noticing, check out the marble stairs. The elevator is all mahogany and brass inside."
"Why do you care about the elevator? You live on the first floor—thank God. I can't imagine carrying all this crap up to the second or third floor."
"And moving in is only part of the fun! I'll be up half the night unpacking. Who knew I had so much stuff?"
"That's the way it is when you move. You always have more than you thought you had and it always takes longer than you think it will."
"I've never moved before, so how could I know?"
Mr. MacKenzie frowned. "Merry, Matt and I have to get going soon. It's getting dark. Are you okay?"
"Just one more minute, Dad." Merry glanced around at the lengthening shadows, wondering where west might be and if she'd have a sunset view. She looked up at tree limbs silhouetted against the twilight sky. Dry leaves rattled in the autumn breeze, and for a moment she thought she saw…
Great. First night on my own and already I'm seeing ghosts.
Then she spied a man with long, dark hair leaning against the wrought iron fence that surrounded the brownstone's small lot. Dressed all in black, he almost disappeared into the shadows, and she might not have noticed him at all except for his pale skin and intense eyes. Something about the way he cocked his head and stared at her caught her attention. A shiver rippled up her spine.
"You can rest when you're inside. It's getting darker by the minute and you know my eyesight's no good for night driving."
"Have Matt drive home. Where is he, anyway?"
Her father peered toward the heavy oak and beveled glass front door of the building. They'd left it propped open with a marble pedestal from the foyer. "I don't know. Last I saw, he stopped to talk to someone. Must have been the landlady."
A second later, her younger brother raced down the steps babbling, "Dad, did you know Jason Falco owns this building? Do you believe that? Jeez, I'm going to have to visit Merry every chance I get!"
She groaned. "You'd better not, pickle-head. And who's Jason Falco, anyway?"
"You're kidding!" he shouted. "You don't know who Jason Falco is?"
Mr. MacKenzie folded his arms. "Calm down, Matt. It's a fairly common name. It could be anybody. Come on, Merry. Get up."
"Can't… too tired."
Some kind of secret signal passed between father and son. The next thing Merry knew, the couch tipped and they unceremoniously dumped her onto the sidewalk. Oomph.
"Hey!" She scrambled to her feet while her brother continued chattering as if nothing had happened.
"He's the lefty pitcher for the Boston Bullets! I swear. I was just talking to his aunt. Oh—she wants the door closed, by the way. It's getting cold in there." As if to illustrate the point, a chilly October breeze blew crisp, brown leaves around their feet.
"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" Merry admonished. "Do you want my neighbors to immediately hate me? Get on the other side of the couch with dad; I can't lift another thing."
Merry marched into her new apartment building, hoping to find the landlord's aunt so she could apologize. No one seemed to be about, but she heard voices from the second floor. As her father and brother staggered and grunted through the front door under the weight of the leather sofa, a young man appeared at the top of the wide, curving staircase.
Long muscular legs in jeans and sneakers had come into view first. Then Merry saw his flat abdomen and broad shoulders under a navy blue knit jersey, and then finally his face.
"Whoa, let me help you with that." He jogged down the steps and grasped the side of the couch her brother had left teetering.
Oh, my lord! What a handsome face it was. Dark, thick brows stood out against his light skin and clear blue eyes. She couldn't identify his hair color easily, since it barely showed under a blue baseball cap. Maybe milk chocolate brown. Merry thought the style was called a buzz cut. The length nearly matched the brown whiskers of the five o'clock shadow on his strong jaw.
"Thanks, man." Matt did a double take and grinned. "I can't wait to set this couch down so I can shake your hand. Believe it or not, my sister's moving into your building and didn't even know who you were."
The handsome hunk just laughed.
Merry put two and two together and decided this must be the famous Jason Falco. Not bad. Not bad at all. On the other hand, if her brother insisted on embarrassing her in front of her hottie landlord by pointing out what a baseball fan she wasn't, she'd have to have a little "chat" with him before he left. A slap upside the head ought to do the trick.
She stepped back in order for the three men to pass her as they carried the heavy piece of used furniture into her tiny living room.
Her father surveyed the polished hardwood floor already covered with boxes. "Where do you want this, honey?"
"Um… I'm not sure yet."
"Well, hurry up and decide before I get a hernia."
"Sorry, Dad. Just put it down where you are. I'll figure it out later."
Her landlord straightened to a full six feet tall. "I can help her move things around once she knows where she wants them." And then he winked at her.
Be still my heart!
So there her couch remained—in the middle of the living room.
Immediately, her brother stuck his hand out to the stranger. "It's really great to meet you, Jason. Can I call you Jason? My dad and I are big fans. I hear you can throw a 97 mile-an-hour fastball. And man, your curveball and changeup? Incredible! Do you think I can get an autograph?"
Jason chuckled. "Thanks… uh, sure." He sounded anything but sure as he regarded the taped boxes around the room. "Do you have a pen and paper handy?"
"Leave him alone, Matt. He's obviously off the clock," Merry muttered, not caring if her fan-boy brother collected his autograph or not.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry, man. Hey, some other time…"
"Absolutely," Jason said. He smiled broadly and to her relief, Merry thought he sounded genuine. Fine, then the pipsqueak wouldn't hound her to obtain Jason's DNA. The DNA that gave him those cute dimples…
"Well, I'll leave you to get settled," her father said. "C'mon, Matt, we'd better get going." He thrust his hand toward Jason and said, "Thanks for your help. I'll sleep better knowing my little girl is in good company."
Crap. How many ways can my family embarrass me? Merry rolled her eyes. "I'm twenty-five, dad. Not exactly a little girl anymore."
Her father dropped Jason's hand and strolled over to where she stood. "You'll always be my little girl." Then he kissed her on the forehead and said, "Call me tomorrow, okay?"
Could she be any more humiliated in front of an awesomely cute guy? So much for establishing her image as a hip, sophisticated city dweller now that she had finally declared her independence. She sighed. "Okay, worrywart."
Her father pointed at her. "I mean it."
"I know, I know."
As soon as they were out of the way, she planned to
revel in her freedom, kick up her heels, and have some much needed fun! Whether they liked it or not.
Jason watched the close-knit family say their good-byes and Merry's father and brother reluctantly leave. Suddenly he missed his mother. She had tried to create family closeness, but the competition his father had instilled in his sons didn't make for warm relationships. Not to mention the other "little problem" that crippled his family's hopes for a normal anything.