Lingering Spirit by Marilyn Meredith
Marilyn Meredith is the author of nearly thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Dispel the Mist from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, An Axe to Grind is the latest from Oak Tree Press.
She is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/
About Lingering Spirit
Nicole Ainsworth’s husband, Steve, has a premonition of his death and moves his family to a mountain community where he serves as a deputy sheriff. He is killed in the line of duty and his wife, Nicole, is left behind to struggle with the changes forced upon her life.
While trying to cope with her grief, raise her two little girls, her husband’s spirit visits her on numerous occasions. She soon learns that someone else is watching over her too.
Read an Excerpt
“You’re going to have to talk to her, Steve,” Nicole said as soon as Steve entered the house. He looked handsome in his crisp khaki Goldfield County deputy’s uniform, but she still liked the navy blue uniform he’d worn as a police officer better. Though she was truly trying, she still considered everything in Southern California far superior, but she tried not to complain too much.
“Who do you want me to talk to?” Steve asked, as he settled his large frame into his place at the dining room table.
Nicole brushed his tan cheek with her lips and patted the top of his golden head. “Sarah, who else? She won’t do anything I tell her. Her room’s a mess. I told her to pick it up, but she won’t do it.”
“She’s only four, after all.”
Nicole put a steaming bowl of stew in front of him. Butter and a partial loaf of sour dough were already on the table.
“Smells wonderful. It’s cold outside. Might get some snow tonight.” He began eating.
With one hand on her hip, Nicole said, “Steve, listen to me. What are you going to do about Sarah?”
“I’ll have a talk with her before I leave. Why don’t you sit down and visit with me while I’m eating?”
Nicole smiled. Moving had made a difference in Steve, he wasn’t so agitated. “What’s going on out there?”
His grin was huge. “Not much. It’s downright boring. Only had one call. Had to get a cow out of the road. Cited a speeder. Talked to Marsh Wilder, he and his wife want us to come to dinner on my day off.”
Wilder was a senior deputy. His wife had been very helpful to Nicole. In the four months since they’d lived in Quail Meadow, one of many small towns in the county, Page had taken her to the best stores, introduced her to the other wives, and organized picnics and various outings for both the families. Their son, though older, attended the same grammar school where Kimberly was enrolled.
“I know. Page called me today. I pointed out it was really their turn to come to dinner here, but she’s having some other people over she wants us to meet.”
Steve buttered another slice of bread. “You’ve told me about Sarah, what’s Kimberly up to? She usually greets me at the door with a hug.”
“Don’t you remember? She’s spending the night with the little girl down the street. That’s part of Sarah’s prob¬lem. She thought she ought to go too, threw a fit when I told her she couldn’t because she wasn’t invited. Haven’t been able to get her to do anything since.”
“Got to admit it, we spoiled the kid.”
“What do you mean ‘we’? You’re the one that always lets her get away with everything.”
Steve lifted his blond eyebrows and shrugged his broad shoulders. “That’s because she looks so much like you, she’s got me wrapped around her little finger, just like you do.”
Nicole couldn’t think of a response. Her husband’s flirtatious teasing had been one of many benefits from the move. Even though they’d taken a drastic cut in pay, the pluses far outweighed the minuses. She smiled and asked, “Do you want some more stew?”
“Love some, but I really don’t have time. I’ll eat what’s left for lunch tomorrow. Bring that little darling on out here while I’m finishing.”
It didn’t look like Sarah had moved since the last time Nicole peeked in her room. Clothes and toys were still scattered everywhere. The tiny girl sat in the middle of one of the twin beds, arms and legs crossed, her lower lip protrud¬ing. Head down, dark curls fell across her eyes.
“Daddy’s home. He wants to talk to you.”
“Don’t wanna talk.”
“Come on, Sarah. Let’s go.”
Stepping carefully to avoid the litter on the multi-colored rug, Nicole snatched her daughter into her arms.
“Put me down!” Legs kicked in the air.
Nicole ignored the kicking and screaming as she carried her daughter into the kitchen. She plopped her into the chair.
“Hey. What’s all the noise about?” Steve asked, lean¬ing toward Sarah.
“What’re you mad about?”
“Kimberly’s spending the night and Mommy won’t let me go.”
“You weren’t invited.”
“I coulda just gone. They wouldn’t care.”
“No, sweetie. That’s not how we do things. Mommy tells me you won’t pick up your toys.”
“Your room is going to be nice and neat when I get home, isn’t it?”
Sarah brushed the curls out of her eyes and stared directly at her father. “No.”
Steve’s cheeks brightened. “If you don’t pick up your toys, Sarah, you’ll have to stay in your room until you do.”
Steve stood. “Yes, you will care. I mean what I say. You’ll be staying in your room tomorrow until you’ve made it nice and neat. I’ve got to go back to work now, how about giving me a hug and kiss.”
“No.” Sarah slid down from the chair. “Go away and never come back.”
As she ran from the room, Steve called after her, “I love you no matter what. I just don’t like it when you won’t mind your mother and me.”
“Sarah.” Nicole started after her.
Grabbing her arm, Steve stopped her. “Let her go. She’ll get over it. Since I didn’t get a hug and kiss from her, how about you?”
Standing on tiptoe, Nicole reached up to kiss him. His arms pulled her close, and he squeezed her so tightly it almost took her breath away.
He parted her lips with his tongue and kissed her passionately. They clung together for several moments making Nicole wish he didn’t have to go back to work.
“I love you,” he said. “Can hardly wait until I get back home tonight. Hope you won’t mind if I wake you.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it.” She winked at him saucily, “Have I ever minded?” Some of their best love making had been when he’d crawled into bed at the end of his shift, waking her with tender caresses.
“That’s my sexy Nicky.” Steve opened the front door, tucking in his rear to avoid the whack Nicole aimed at him.
“You know I don’t like anyone to call me that!”
“You never seem to mind me calling you Nicky when we’re making love,” he teased as he quickly slipped through the door and closed it.
Grinning, Nicole peeked through the front drapes and waved as her husband climbed into the white official sedan he’d parked beside the curb. It was too dark to see much, just the shadowy shapes of the fir and cedar trees around the house. From across the street, came the yellow glow from the neighbor’s windows and smoke curling from their chimney.
That reminded her, it was time to put another log in the wood stove, something she’d certainly never had to do when she lived in Channel Harbor. She waved one last time as Steve drove away.
Letting the drapes fall together, Nicole turned toward the brick hearth that ran the length of the wall. Steve had brought in the evening’s supply of wood before leaving for work. Nicole tended to the fire, still amazed how the small stove heated the entire three bedroom, A-frame house.
Smaller than their home in southern California, their furniture comfortably filled the space. Every window looked out onto a tree filled vista. From their redwood deck outside their kitchen they’d seen raccoons, possums, a skunk, and deer. Even Nicole enjoyed the scenery. It had snowed a few times since they’d lived there, entrancing the children.
Deciding to leave Sarah alone for awhile, Nicole began picking up after her husband’s meal. When the kitchen was spotless, she sat down in her favorite chair near the wood stove.
Thoroughly enjoying her contentment, she realized how much had changed since they’d moved to Quail Meadow. Of course she missed her family and friends. But everyone had traveled the nearly four-hundred miles to visit at least once, and they called regularly. And she’d been warmly welcomed by the other deputies’ wives and the few neighbors.
The cost of living was cheaper, and everything moved at a slower pace in the mountain community. It was almost like they’d stepped a few years back in time. Crime was almost nonexistent. Steve complained good-naturedly about being bored while on duty, but she knew by his drastic change in attitude that the overwhelming dread that had driven him from Channel Harbor had completely disappeared.
The big difference for Nicole was that she was no longer afraid when he worked late hours. The beach communi¬ty they’d come from had all the problems of a big city. Drugs and gang activities had infected the entire area.
The biggest problem she had right now was her youngest daughter. Sighing, she left her comfortable place. “Sarah,” she called, as she headed toward her child’s room.
Nicole was pleasantly surprised when she entered. Nearly all the toys had been put away. Sarah busily shoved books into the bookcase. She smiled brightly at her mother when she entered.
“I did it. Won’t Daddy be happy?”
“Oh, yes. You’ve done a wonderful job.” Nicole held her arms out to. “Come give me a hug.”
Sarah scampered across the floor and threw herself into her mother’s arms. She squeezed tightly, reminding Nicole of Steve’s breathtaking hugs. Though she didn’t like to admit it, Sarah resembled Nicole in more than just looks. She remembered spankings she could have avoided as a child, if she hadn’t been so stubborn and always done what her mother or father asked of her.
“Oh, sweetie, why didn’t you just do this in the first place instead of making all of us angry?”
Sarah pulled away from her mother. “‘Cause I didn’t wanna.”
“I know sweetie, but life would be so much easier if you’d do what you’re told.”
The lower lip came out. “I cleaned my room. Don’t you like it?”
“Yes, I do.” She knew it wasn’t worth the effort to try and explain any further. “Why don’t we make some pop¬corn and see if there’s anything good on TV?”
* * *
Was that the doorbell? Nicole raised herself on her elbow and squinted at the illuminated numerals on the clock. It was after three. She must have been dreaming.
She was about to snuggle under the covers, when she heard it again. It was the doorbell, followed by the sound of knocking.
Leaping from the bed, Nicole yanked a housecoat from the closet and ran down the stairs, her heart beating wildly.