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Haunted Love
chapters

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

epilogue


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Haunted Love
by SheridanC

     

Chapter One

An eeie shriek cut through the howling winds that were whipping across the Crane estate like a knife cut through butter.

Luis rushed to Sheridan's side, noticing first that she was shaking violently, then that a ghostly apparition was fading away into the distant fog.

The third thing he realized was that the agonizing howl had come from Sheridan's lips.

"What--what the hell happened?" he demanded, glancing from her to the spot where the--
thing had been.

"It-it--they--" was all she could manage before fainting dead away, leaving a startled and curious Luis hovering over her.

Kneeling down, Luis eased Sheridan into his arms and stood up, heading in the direction of her cottage. The full moon gave off enough light for Luis to see the path leading up to her cottage as he traipsed along, his thoughts dwelling on the terrified look that had been on her face when he'd approached her.

Shifting Sheridan a bit as he came to the door of her cottage, he reached out and turned the knob, then used his foot to kick open the door.

Hurrying over to the couch, he lay her there and went to close the door before sighing and jamming his hands through his hair. Had it been the drug cartel? Was that why she had screamed?

And what in the hell had that--
thing been?

He went to where she lay on the couch and kneeled before her, gently shaking her awake. At first, she didn't respond, but her eyes finally fluttered open.

She gasped and sat up, darting her eyes around the room anxiously before resting them on him. Momentarily disoriented, she inquired, "Where am I? What happened? Luis?"

"I could ask you the same. What happened, that is." He gave her a strange look before sliding onto the couch next to her.

"I heard a scream, and couldn't find you. As your bodyguard, one would expect that I'd be a bit worried about you.... But, when I found you, you looked terrified, and -- well,
something ran--" faded, he thought, shaking his head "--away."

Sheridan looked at him for a moment, completely confused. "What--?" was all she said.

"Dear God, don't tell me you don't remember," he replied, exasperated. "It only happened a moment ago!"

Sheridan stared at him. Her eyes suddenly widened, and then they narrowed in anger. Luis jumped to his feet in shock when her hand met his cheek in a stinging slap. He cupped his throbbing cheek and gave her a surprised, but angry, look.

"What the hell--?" he exclaimed, rubbing the area on his face.

"You idiot!" she shrieked, jumping to her feet. "I can't believe you'd scare me like that!"

"Me--scare you? What the hell are you talking about?" he responded loudly. His eyes were glued ominously to her. Damn, if she wasn't a woman...

"I-I don't know exactly what happened," she told him hotly, "but I do know someone scared the crap out of me -- and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were you!"

She was crazy, he thought with an incredulous look in her direction.

"Sheridan..." he replied slowly, "why the hell would I scare you when I'm here to protect you? I mean, there's already the drug cartel after you. Why would I want to scare you -- wait, never mind. You're not in the least frightened by the drug cartel." He sighed and gave her a grim look. "You always blame me for everything. I don't know what your problem is, but you can deal with it on your own."

Turning on his heel, he stalked into the kitchen. Sheridan stared after him for a long moment before dropping to the couch in frustration and running her long, slender fingers over her face.

Her mind was fogged. She blamed him because she remembered him being there...but what if--

Her thoughts came to an abrupt halt as she remembered him telling her what had happened, as the truth of what had happened dawned upon her.

"Luis!" she screamed, jumping to her feet and racing into the kitchen. He was seated at the table, but came to his feet when she suddenly rushed in and threw her arms around him, shaking violently.

Bewildered, he merely held her.


Julian Crane took a paltry sip of brandy and leaned indolently against his leather office chair, crossing his legs atop his desk in the process.

"Don't worry, Father," he spoke in a soothing voice. "I have it all taken care of."

From the speakerphone on Julian's black telephone, his father replied, "This time, you'd better not screw up."

Julian grinned maliciously and took another calming sip of his brandy. Removing his legs from the desk, he sat forward and responded in a voice that spoke of his certainty, "Oh, you've no need to worry, Father. I have everything under control."

"Very well, Julian," Alistair Crane said. "I will leave this in your hands. If you screw up, I'll have your head." With those words, Alistair hung up, and only a shrill dial tone remained.

Julian leaned forward and pressed a button on the telephone. The dial tone came to a halt.

Standing, he twirled, clutching his brandy glass in his hand. With a gleeful laugh, he looked out the window behind his desk, to where he could see his sister's cottage.

Already, his plan was working. Soon, he'd have it all. And his father didn't know a damn thing about what he had planned for his dear sister.

He'd be out of the clutches of his domineering father, and his sister would be done for.

Then, he would have his uncle's money. And Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald would be no problem.

And no one, he assured himself, could do a damn thing about it.


Paloma Lopez-Fitzgerald's raven-black hair swayed behind her, carressing her bare shoulders as she made entrance to a small shop called the Book Cafë. She was clad in blue jean flares and a spaghetti-strapped black top that hugged her curves, and would surely turn a few heads.

She scanned the interior of the Book Cafë with choclate-brown eyes before approaching the counter. A woman, with a name tag pinned to her shirt reading "Beth," asked what her order would be, and she replied wearily, "The muffin looks good," referring to a tasty-looking blueberry muffin.

"A coffee would be nice, too."

Beth nodded, handing her the muffin and a cup of steaming black coffee. Paloma paid her the required amount of money before making her way out of the Book Cafë and into the frigid night air.

She aimlessly wandered the streets of her familiar previous hometown, wondering briefly about her family. Her mother hadn't contacted her for a long while now, and Theresa and Luis had quit a year ago.

Their lives must be busy, she decided, and sighed. A puff of white fog left her lips as it hit the cold air. She shivered and sipped her coffee.

Paloma didn't realize until too late that she was heading straight for another person, who was busy talking on the phone to someone. She crashed right into him and went sprawling to the ground, her coffee splashing on the cement and making a small puddle next to her, and her muffin diving into the air before hitting the ground soundlessly.

Crying out angrily, she turned to see who the person she'd slammed into was. Her arm, which had already been bruised, now throbbed in pain.

Her eyes met a pair of startled light blue ones. The man's cell phone had broken from the collision.

"Damn," the man muttered, rubbing his head full of wavy brown hair. "I, ah--sorry. I didn't see you coming."

Paloma's face softened. She sighed and looked at her muffin, then at her cup of coffee.

"That's all right," she replied flatly, rising to her feet and rubbing her arms. She winced as her hand ran over the bruise on her right arm.

"I'll just have to get another muffin, and more coffee, huh?"

"Hey, are you hurt?" The man stumbled to his feet. "And why the hell are you wearing so little out in these temperatures?"

"Because I feel like it," she snapped, rubbing her arms more rapidly. Damn, it was cold out there.

"Hey, hey, sorry." He held his hands up as if to ward her off. "I didn't mean to offend you."

"Look," Paloma sighed irritably, "I'm just going to go home. Okay? It was...nice to meet you."

"Let me drive you home," he offered, stepping closer to her.

"That's okay."

"I insist. It was my fault you fell. At least let me drive you home."

Paloma gazed at him for a long moment before deciding that it
was rather cold outside...and now that her coffee was gone, she had nothing to warm herself. Sighing in relent, she nodded and smiled thinly.

"Fine."

He gestured for her to follow him before turning towards the parking lot of a place called the Youth Center. They approached a gold car, and the man took his keys out of his jacket pocket, asking, "So, where do you live? What's your name?"

She bit her lip. Her mother would be surprised to see her, she conceded, but she knew her surprise visit wouldn't make anyone angry.

"I'm Paloma Lopez-Fitzgerald. Do you know where the Lopez-Fitzgerald house is?"

She hoped he did. It had been so long since she'd lived in Harmony that she'd forgotten the directions to her own house.

The man seemed startled. He turned to her and said, "Paloma?"

"Yes." She gave him a curious look. "Why?"

He offered her a warm smile, as if they'd been friends for a lifetime. "It's nice to see you again. I'm Hank Bennett."


"Uh...Sheridan?" Luis ran his hands up and down the crying woman's back. "What's wrong?" His voice went a notch softer as she buried her head further into his shoulder. Damn, but it felt so good to hold her.... He couldn't help inhaling the vanilla scent of her perfume, savoring each moment he held her.

Focus, he thought, letting out a sigh of frustration.

"I'm insane," she sobbed out into his shoulder. "Perfectly insane!"

He blinked twice, shocked. "Uh...Sheridan, what are you talking about?"

She gripped him tighter. "I saw a...a...a..." She stopped, and cried harder.

"A what?" Luis inquired, closing his eyes. He leaned his face into her shoulder -- he couldn't help it. She was just so--

"A
ghost," she sputtered.

A rumble of laughter rose in Luis. She was right. She
was insane.

"It's not funny!" Sheridan exclaimed, jerking free of his grasp. "I saw it! I did! Damn...I must be nuts."

Luis laughed harder.

"Stop it!" she cried. "I'm not joking. That's what scared me! I saw one.... I did!"

He tried to stop laughing, holding up his hands as if to indicate he needed a moment.

"I'm sorry," he laughed. "I just find that a bit hard to believe."

"You saw it fading away," Sheridan pointed out, crossing her arms over her chest. She gave him a smug grin, but tears still rolled down her cheeks.

"I feel like I'm struggling to hold onto sanity," she said bitterly, and turned away from him.

Luis furrowed his brow, trying to remember what the thing fading away had been. If they had both seen it...

"Damn, we're both insane," he murmured, wide-eyed. The ghostly apparition that had faded away into the fog flickered into his memory. He let out a shaky breath.

Sheridan turned to face him once more. "Maybe it was our imagination."

"Well," he conceded, "it is rather foggy out tonight."

"That could be it," Sheridan said, but her voice was tentative.

"Listen," Luis sighed, "go get some rest. We just both...need a good night's rest. Tomorrow, we'll wake up and realize it was all our imagination."

Sheridan nodded numbly. She stood for a moment, staring at him, then said a soft "Goodnight, Luis," lingered a moment, and then left the kitchen.

Luis gazed after her for a long while. Finally, he ran his hands through his hair and whispered, "Goodnight, Sheridan," before wandering over to a side wall and putting out the light.


Pilar Lopez-Fitzgerald stood atop a silver ladder and strung a long line of plastic pumpkins with glowing lights inside from the outside of her house. Halloween was approaching at a rapid pace, and she had barely begun to decorate for the holiday, what with her busy schedule, and her daughter's obsession with Ethan Crane.

Not to mention Luis staying at Sheridan Crane's cottage for his duty as her bodyguard. That could lead to trouble, she'd acknowledged.

She inhaled the winter smell of the outdoors before climbing down from the ladder and kneeling to retrieve more decorations. The slamming of a car door caught her attention. She stood up and looked towards the direction where it had come from.

Hank's gold car was parked in front of her house. She waved to him as he departed the vehicle, but he only grinned at her and went around the other side to let another passenger out.

Pilar's heart nearly stopped beating as her oldest daughter came out and raced towards her.

The forgotten decorations fell from her hand as she threw her arms around her daughter and hugged her tightly.

"Dios querido, Paloma! It is good to see you again!"

"I've missed you, Mama," Paloma sniffled. The two women stayed embraced for a long while, with Hank in the background grinning at their reunion.

"Why did you come?" Pilar finally asked, smoothing her daughter's long black hair back from her head before planting a kiss on her forehead. "Did your aunt send you here?"

Paloma's eyes took on a distant, sad look. "No. No, Mama. It's not like that. I just decided I wanted to see you again."

Pilar gave her a small, curious frown. "Does your aunt know...?"

Paloma hesitated before answering, "Uh, yes."

Pilar smiled warmly at the pretty woman. "It's good to have you home for the holidays. Come inside. I will call your sister and brother."

"What's going on with them, anyway?" Paloma inquired as she and her mother headed inside the house. "They haven't been speaking to me for over a year. And you haven't contacted me in awhile, either."

She suddenly stopped, remembering Hank, and gestured from the doorway for him to come in. He shook his head and called out, "I have to be heading off. It was nice to see you again. You really have grown up."

Paloma smiled and waved a goodbye to him before entering the Lopez-Fitzgerald house and closing the door behind her. She rubbed rapidly at her goose-bump covered arms and breathed into her hands.

"Well," Pilar finally answered, "we've been a little...busy."

"Busy?" Paloma queried, following her mother into the livingroom, and then the kitchen.

"Your sister still has a thing for Ethan Crane," her mother said flatly. She turned to face her daughter at the entry way to the kitchen. "And he has a thing for her now, too."

Paloma's mouth dropped in surprise. "My goodness! What about that girl? Gabrial or something?"

"Gwen," her mother corrected, sauntering over to the kitchen table and picking up dirty dishes. "Gwendolyn Hotchkiss. They were going to get married, but he called off the wedding because he loves Theresa."

Paloma smiled widely as her mother filled the sink with dish water and slipped the plates and glasses inside.

"Well, I'm happy for her. Her dream has come true," she informed her mother. She traipsed to the table and plucked an apple from a basket of fruit, using her shirt to wipe it before taking a juicy bite.

Pilar sighed and shook her head. "It's not that simple."

Paloma swallowed the bite before rolling her eyes. "Nothing ever is, Mama," she replied, sinking her teeth into the apple once more.

Pilar rinsed a clean dish off and set it in a drainer. "As for your brother," she said, changing the subject, "he's working as Sheridan Crane's bodyguard twenty-four-seven."

"Sheridan Crane?" Paloma questioned, swallowing. "Who's she? Ethan's sister?"

"Aunt," Pilar corrected. "She came back into town just last year. Your brother dated her for awhile, but things didn't work out."

Paloma nodded, taking in the information. "Maybe that's why he hasn't contacted me."

Pilar looked up from washing dishes. "What do you mean?"

"Maybe he's got a thing for this woman," Paloma said, grinning at the thought. She took a seat in one of the chairs at the kitchen table and propped her feet up. Pilar gave her a disapproving frown, and she hurriedly removed her feet.

"I don't think so," her mother replied finally, drying her hands on a towel and walking over to the table. She seated herself and added, "He seems to hate her."

Paloma only laughed.

"And, besides, they're complete opposites."

"Opposites attract, Mama," Paloma replied with a grin. She took another tasty bite of the apple, and dropped the core into a nearby trash cran.

"That may well be," Pilar said, "but opposites would live a miserable life together."

"Oh, Mama," Paloma responded, leaning her elbows against the table. "You're so pessimistic."

Pilar sighed and shook her head. "You're just like your sister, Paloma."

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