by ELLE JAMES
An accident leaves Cecilia Lovelace's body in a coma while her spirit is free to roam. The only person who can see and hear her is her first love. Zachary Alston can't believe that Cecilia is a ghost and that she has a message from his dead son. Together, they learn the accident was an attempt to kill Zachary. While solving the mystery, they fall victim to love.
White walls, the sharp smell of antiseptic and the muted squeak of nurses’ rubber-soled shoes bombarded her consciousness. Cecilia recognized the place as Brackenridge Crash Unit from the many visits she’d made. First to her mother’s deathbed and then to cover human-interest stories for her father’s newspaper.
She shook her head to clear the lingering haze. Had she come to cover a story? Was someone she knew in the hospital? Was she dreaming? If not, the gaping holes in her memory worried her. She couldn’t remember how she’d gotten here or why she’d come.
Just inside the inner sanctum of the bustling emergency room, Cecilia stood with her back to the entrance. The swoosh of swinging doors close by startled her. Before she could jump out of the way, a tingling sensation, similar to a minor electrical shock, sizzled through her body. Two paramedics appeared in front of her pushing a gurney with a small figure buried in I.V. tubes and breathing equipment.
Cecilia swung around. The emergency personnel couldn’t have made it through the doorway at their current speed without knocking her on her face and rolling over her with the heavy-duty gurney wheels. She’d been standing in the way. How’d they get by her? Compelled by an unknown force, she turned to follow. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what that something was. She wished the fog around her brain would clear.
The paramedics, gurney and all, disappeared into a room at the end of the hallway.
When the door closed behind them, Cecilia hesitated in the busy corridor. Why was she following those guys? Shouldn’t she ask a nurse for help? She moved toward the nurses’ station.
Just then, a doctor stepped in front of her, his face not four inches from the end of her nose. He glanced down at a clipboard and up into her eyes, staring as if he looked right through her.
What’s wrong with everybody? Why are you acting like I’m invisible? She reached out to shake his arm.
“Any change in Cecilia Lovelace?” the doctor asked.
Cecilia’s hand paused midair. Was he asking her about herself? She stared at his severe expression and then looked around the wide corridor.
“No, none at all.” A nurse stood to one side of Cecilia, balancing a folder in one hand. She scribbled on a page, closed the folder and handed it to the doctor, trading for the clipboard he’d been reviewing. “Her vital signs have stabilized but she’s still unconscious.”
What do you mean? Blood pounding in her ears, Cecilia looked from the nurse to the doctor. I’m not unconscious. I’m standing right beside you.
The doctor studied the chart. “Has anyone notified her father?”
Heellloooo. Yoohoo. Cecilia waved a hand in the doctor’s face.
He didn’t flinch as he read the notes on the page.
No need to call Daddy. I’m fine. See? She held out her arms and stared down at herself then back to the doctor and nurse.
Still, no response from the man standing so close she could spit in his eye.
A gentle tug on the hem of her short black dress stopped Cecilia’s next words.
“They can’t hear you,” a child’s voice said from behind her.
Cecilia spun to face a small boy with reddish-brown hair and deep brown eyes. “What do you mean, they can’t hear me? Why are they ignoring me?”
“They can’t hear you,” he repeated.
“Because you aren’t really here.” A gentle smile lifted his lips.
Gray shadows gathered around the edges of her vision. She recalled the paramedics rushing through the emergency room doors across the very space where she’d stood without knocking her down. Her heart hammered in her chest.
“Has the kid’s father shown up yet?”
The doctor’s words pulled Cecilia back to the present.
He capped his pen, stuffed it into his pocket and stepped right through her.
Cecilia reeled, expecting to be knocked to her backside. Instead, a warm tingling accompanied the man’s pass through. When he’d moved on to the nurses’ station, Cecilia stood cold and empty.
A soft hum grew, building into a deafening roar that filled her ears. The hall spun out of control. The doctor and several nurses rushed past her to a room several doors away.
Cecilia fell, sucked into a gaping vortex, the kind she’d seen in science-fiction films, where pitch black interspersed with brilliant flashes of color. Her world tipped and whirled, dragging her into darkness.
She clawed at the air to still the momentum drawing her away from the bright lights of the hospital corridor.
When the roar subsided, the world settled into the blurry focus of the not-so-distant past.
“I remember,” Cecilia said.
She’d been sitting behind the wheel of her sporty white BMW, traveling the side roads to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
“The streets were slick.” A gentle mist had blanketed the sky, muting the late afternoon sunlight pushing Austin into an early dusk. Limited visibility and the slippery film on the pavement only added to Cecilia’s nervousness. She’d been tapping her fingers on the steering wheel in rhythm to Lady Antebellum’s latest hit, hoping the upbeat music would calm her.
She was headed to the airport to talk to the owners of Air Trans Solutions. Normally, she wasn’t panicky about meeting business owners to get background on a story, but this time was different.
“I was going to see Zachary,” she whispered. Her gut clenched with the mere mention of his name.
Zachary Alston was one of the owners. She hadn’t seen him in so long; would he remember her as clearly as she remembered him?
“I was so afraid he’d still hate me.” When he’d proposed marriage in their junior year at college, she’d turned him down and run home to hide, not from him, but from herself.
“All my life, I’d dreamed of traveling the world and writing powerful stories.” She paused and gazed down at the boy. “I didn’t want to fall in love. Not then. But I did.” She shook her head, her lips curving upward in a sad smile. “And I threw it all away.”
She’d been afraid of her lingering feelings for Zachary and even more afraid he’d be indifferent to her. After all the years, she didn’t think she could bear it if he only remembered her as some insignificant fling he’d enjoyed in college.
Cecilia had never forgiven herself for choosing to leave him to pursue her career. A career she’d never achieved. “I remember reaching down to turn up the radio.” She wasn’t there to wallow in the past. She was following up on an anonymous tip indicating Zachary’s company might be connected to drug trafficking in Austin. She rolled her eyes at the child. “As if Mr. Straight-As-An-Arrow would be involved in anything illegal,” she muttered beneath her breath.
“Then I looked up, and that’s when I saw them.” Cecilia’s heart had stopped and her breath caught in her throat. A red SUV and a black car screamed around the corner taking up both lanes of the two-lane road.
“They were coming so fast...” She’d jammed her foot on the brakes. The black car slammed into the side of the SUV and then swerved in front of it, forcing the red vehicle off the road. The black car blasted toward Cecilia, still occupying her lane on the narrow road.
“I didn’t have time to think. All I could do was react.” Cecilia had jerked her steering wheel to the right and plunged over the edge of an embankment. The BMW bumped and scraped over rocks and bushes, rushing headlong into a ravine. The front left wheel glanced off a mound of earth and the entire vehicle flipped sideways, tumbling over and over until coming to a crunching halt upside-down.