Under My Bed

an excerpt

Chapter One

At the ripe old age of six, I decided my mother hated me. I mean, why else would she saddle me with a name like Tabor Augustus? Seriously, that's my name. Of course, no one figures it out when I challenge him or her to guess what T.A. stands for.

What person in her right mind would do that to her only child? Ah, but you see, there's the rub. Mom was never in her right mind. She was--as my eloquent next-door neighbor says--bat shit crazy.

Whenever anyone asked her who my father was, she replied she didn't know. That, in itself, didn't make her crazy. It was her explanation for not knowing his name that landed her squarely in the insane department. One night on All Hallows' Eve, she took a walk in the woods and met this guy. They had sex and, boom, nine months later I was born. She often described him as dressed in black with long, dark hair and horns. She would tell anyone who listened that she felt compelled to lie with him like he'd cast a spell over her. Yeah, my mom believed in magic as well.

It was so much fun growing up as a bastard in a small town, but being the bastard son of the local crazy woman added an extra element to my formative years. Gave the bullies something else to beat me up over.

By the time I reached second grade, my teachers knew never to call me Tabor. My kindergarten teacher learned the lesson and passed it on to the others. There's nothing worse than being ignored by a six-year-old. By calling me T.A., they ensured I would be the best-behaved child in the class. In fact, they would forget about me. I had a knack of blending into the background, though to look at me when I was younger, you'd think no one would forget me.

I was "slightly"--meaning my ears were slightly too big for my head, my nose slightly too big for my face, and my teeth were slightly too big for my mouth. The only thing not too big was my height, causing me to be slightly too small for everything else.

Oh, how the bullies had a field day with all my weirdness. Needless to say, my school years were a torment for me. I didn't have any friends because who would want to be friends with the kid everyone picked on. Normal children avoided me like the plague and bullies found me irresistible.

Here I sit, twenty-five years old, writing in my journal on All Hallows' Eve, instead of out partying with friends. Oh yeah, I have friends now. People I met in college who knew nothing about my crazy mother or the fact my dad had horns. All they know about me was what I've told them.

I could have gone to one of their places, hung out, and got drunk tonight. But I didn't feel like it. Halloween is a strange time for me. I always feel restless and nervous as October thirty-first approaches each year, like I'm waiting for something spectacular to happen. Nothing ever has and that's the story of my life. The only thing that happens is me being tormented by ghosts from the past.

It often seems like the universe is setting me up to be the punch line in some cosmic joke, but it hasn't seen fit to clue me in yet.

I stop writing and pop another handful of candy corn in my mouth. It's a dark and stormy evening. No, really it is. A cold front roared in from the north and it's been raining for most of the day. Just as I notice the lack of wind, a knock on my front door nearly sends me off my bed and into the closet. I haven't been in the closet since I graduated high school. I've no interest in going back in.

"Who'd be out in a night like this?" I mutter as I shove my feet into my Bugs Bunny slippers and trudge down the hall to the front door.

Probably some trick-or-treaters totally ignoring the fact I don't have my porch light on. There is no way I'm sharing my candy with the bratty neighborhood kids. My hand pauses at the light switch. Christ! Twenty-five and I'm already a curmudgeon. I flip the light on and yank open the door. Whatever I mean to say disappears from my mind as I catch sight of the man standing on my front porch.

Holy honeysuckle, Batman! An angel stands there, soaked and shivering, but trust me when I tell you he is beautiful. Though with my luck, he isn't one of the heavenly angels. He looks like I've always imagined one of the fallen types does. With blue-tinged lips and dripping blond hair, he looks like a five-mile stretch of bad road covered in mud and potholes, yet his underlying hotness shines through.

"Can I come in?" His teeth chatter, and I blink.

It's the nice thing to do and I know for a fact my neighbors aren't home, so I can't even send him to them. With barely disguised annoyance, I step back and gesture for him to step in.

He flows into the front entryway like he owns the place, and somehow his confidence puts me more on edge. I never liked men who ooze arrogance and belonging from every pore. How could he manage it looking like a drowned rat?

"Do you have a towel I could use?"

Damn, caught me daydreaming again. I grit my teeth and nod. "Stay there. I don't want water and mud all over my floor."

I stomp to my guest bathroom, which is hard to do in slippers, but I try to get across the fact I'm doing this under duress. I fight the urge to mutter under my breath, another bad habit of mine. I snatch three towels out of the closet and stalk back to him. He'd stayed right where I left him, earning him some points. So many people you invite into your house tend to believe it's an open invitation to snoop, and trust me, I don't want anyone wandering around my house unsupervised.

I hand him the first towel before sighing. "Why don't you go and clean up in the bathroom?"

He glances down at his clothes. "I don't have any clothes with me to change into."

"For goodness sakes," I mutter. "Fine. I probably have some clothes that'll fit you."

He eyed me skeptically.

"Trust me. I have some friends about your size and they've left clothes here."

"I'm surprised you have friends."

The hint of sarcasm in his tone earns him a few more points, and I incline my head slightly, acknowledging his barb. "Well, some people find me tolerable."

"Sort of like Grumpy in Snow White," he murmurs.

I shoot him a narrow-eyed glare. "Watch it, sweetheart. Unlike those dwarves, I'll toss your ass back out in the rain."

He laughs, seemingly unimpressed by my threat. He heads down the hallway toward the bathroom. I stand there for a moment, admiring his ass, lovingly displayed by those wet jeans. It's only when he turns and catches me staring that I turn away.

Great, somehow I've ended up with a visitor on All Hallows' Eve, and I hate it. No matter how good-looking the man is, I want him out of my house before midnight strikes. I go to the guest room and dig through the dresser, pulling out sweats, a long sleeve T-shirt and socks. There's no underwear, so I guess he'll have to go commando. My cock likes the idea of this man being totally naked under a single layer of clothes. My head tells me to get him out of the house before it's too late.

The shower turns on, and I open the door, tossing the clothes on the counter. I didn't look to see if I could make out his silhouette on the shower curtain. That would be bad manners, and while I might be a hermit, I'm not a peeping Tom. I shut the door and turn to frown at the tracks marring my clean floor.

::He can't be here, Tabor Augustus. You know he needs to leave before the clock hits midnight.::

Nodding, I grasp the urgency of the voice in my head. There are other reasons why I don't have guests over on Halloween or the night before. Very good reasons why I don't go out and party with my friends. No one can ever find out what they are because I would find myself in the mental ward at the local hospital.

::You know tonight is ours. Yet there is an intruder. I shall go and scare him away.::

I snap out of my contemplation of the mud on the floor. "No, you won't bother him. I'll let him dry off and use the phone. I'm sure he'll have some friend who can come and get him."

::He better. This is our time and we're not going to stop just because you have someone here.::

"Selfish pricks," I grumble as I kneel to wipe up the mess all the way to the front door. "You can't even give me one Halloween off."

::It wasn't the deal.::

"I don't know anything about the deal, and since I didn't make it with you, I shouldn't have to be the one to suffer because of it."

I hate the voices in my head. One or two of them I can deal with--and do on a daily basis throughout the year--but as Halloween approaches, they multiply, driving me closer to insanity.

"To whom are you talking?"

Jumping, I squeak and whirl around, landing on my ass in a puddle of muddy water. He stands in the doorway, leaning a shoulder against the frame and smirking down at me. I'd been so caught up in wiping up the floor and arguing with the voices, I didn't hear the shower shut off or the door open.

"I'm talking to myself." I climb to my feet and stroll toward my bedroom, trying to keep my dignity, but knowing it's a losing battle with a soggy ass and bunny slippers.

"You spend too much time alone," he comments, and I don't dispute his words.

I shut the door quietly, not slamming it like I really want to. I toss the dirty towels in the laundry basket and soon my pajama pants follow. I pull a pair of jeans out of my closet. No more looking like a teenager. I'm an adult and should be afforded some respect, even if my visitor doesn't think so. I change out of my Marilyn Monroe T-shirt into a dark blue henley and put on socks instead of slippers. When I finish, I go back out and find my guest standing in the living room, staring at the photographs on the mantel of my fireplace.

At least I didn't find him in the kitchen or one of the other rooms. The living room is rather bland compared to my office. I step just inside the door. He turns to look at me, and I'm struck by the brilliance of his eyes. They sparkle like the purest sapphire, and I clench my hands to keep from adjusting the erection pressing against my zipper.

"I'm Gautier. Thanks for answering your door. I knocked on some other ones, but I guess no one was home."

"They're all gone to Halloween parties." I struggle with being personable. "I'm T.A. Would you like something to drink?"

"T.A. What does that stand for?" Gautier faces me and raises his eyebrows.

"You can guess if you want, but I won't be telling you. Do you want something to drink?"

My mother raised me to be polite, though my manners don't extend to spilling anything about my name.

"Yes, I would. Do you have any hot chocolate? I need something warm to heat me up." He looks me over from head to toe and winks. "Though I admit you would do nicely if you were so inclined."

"Does that line usually work on people?" I shake my head and go to the kitchen.

"I don't usually have to work so hard to get men to fall in bed with me."

"God save me from a humble man," I mutter under my breath as I take out the fixings for hot chocolate.

"You're not going to make me homemade hot cocoa?" The pout in his voice grates on my nerves.

"The way things are going, you're lucky I don't toss your ass back out in the middle of this storm." I fill the teakettle with water and set it on the stove. "The phone is over there. Don't you need to call someone to come and pick you up?"

"Why would I do that? I'm right where I need to be."

His enigmatic statement worries me. How could he be right where he needs to be? Not tonight. Not on Halloween eve, and not with me. God, I hope he doesn't expect me to offer him a bed for the night or even take him to my bed. That isn't going to happen any time soon.

"I don't think you need to be here." My trembling hand clanks the spoon against the mug as I scoop out the cocoa mix.

The warmth from his body sinks in through my skin, and I twitch slightly as I realize he's standing right behind me. His breath dances along the nape of my neck, and I long to lean back against him. It would be nice to have someone to carry the weight of my troubles for a minute or two, but I know no such man exists.

::You need to get rid of him or I will.::

The threat is enough to drive me away from him. I ease to the side, mourning the absence of his freshly showered scent. He doesn't say anything, though I feel his amused gaze follow me as I pour the hot water into the mugs. I set his mug on the counter next to him and move away. Not making contact will be best for both of us, since even though I have the most incredible urge to jump him and drag him to my bed, my other visitors remind me of why I can't do that.

Sitting, Gautier wraps his hands around his mug and takes a sip. I reach for the cordless phone setting on the counter.

"Here. Why don't you call someone to come and pick you up, so you don't have to walk in the rain?"

He takes the phone, but doesn't dial. I want to snatch it from him and smack him with it.

"What is your problem?" I fidget, itching like someone is glaring at me from the corner of the room. My shoulders slowly rise toward my ears as I anticipate the trouble happening if Gautier doesn't leave soon.

"I don't know anyone in this town. I just moved here a few days ago."

"Then what were you doing walking around the neighborhood? Do you even live around here?"

Gautier shakes his head and drops his gaze to the table between us. "No. I actually live on the other side of the town. I went for a walk to check out Main Street and see if I could meet people. Ended up over here and got caught in the storm."

"So you don't know anyone here?"

"I know you." Gautier's grin flirts with me, but I can't encourage him.

"I don't count. I'll call you a cab." I grab the phone from him and begin to dial.

He reaches out and lays a hand on my arm. "Why don't you take me home?"

I shake my head, electric shocks racing over my skin at the warm feel of his fingers and discomfort chasing them at the unfamiliar touch of another man. "My car is in the shop getting work done. Besides, I don't leave the house on All Hallows' Eve."

Tilting his head, he stares at me. "Why not? Afraid you're going to hit some little kid in a costume? Do all the scary costumes intimidate you?"

I understand he's teasing me, but I have very little humor when it comes to this particular night. "It has nothing to do with the costumes. I'm not overly fond of children, which is why I chose to stay inside with the lights off tonight."

::I told you to make him leave.::

Wincing, I close my eyes just as Gautier's mug lifts from the table.

"Hey, what's happening?"

An angry gasp alerts me to what might be going on across from me. I peer through my lashes to see hot chocolate dripping from Gautier's nose. The mug is lying on the floor, empty of its contents.

"You have to leave now." I push to my feet and yank him to his.

He doesn't protest as I drag him down the hallway to the front door. He slips his bare feet into his shoes, while I grab a large jacket out of the closet. I toss it at him and open the door. He slips it on and stands, studying me. I shuffle my feet and nod toward the rainy outdoors.

"I'm sorry, but you really need to leave. If you don't, it's only going to get worse."

"I know what's happening here, Tabor Augustus, and while I'll leave this time, next time will be a different story."

His blue eyes gleam with an otherworldly light, and I shiver. How can he know about the spirits haunting me? No one knows about them. Not even my mother, and she's the reason ghosts torment me all year around, though it gets worse on October thirty-first.

"How do you know my full name?" I frown, unease sweeping up my back.

He cups my face in his elegant hands and smiles gently at me. "I know many things about you, T.A. and I'm here to help, if you'll let me."

"I don't know what you're talking about and you really need to leave right now."

The pressure in the house has been building since the hot chocolate incident. My visitors weren't happy about Gautier's presence. They want him out, so they can have their way with me.

Shock rips through me as he leans down and brushes a kiss over my lips. No one has kissed me in a very long time. I gasp as he steps back, every instinct in my body yearning to allow him to take me in his arms and kiss me again.

Movement behind Gautier catches my eye, and I wince.

"You can't help me. Please leave now. I don't want anything to happen to you."

I shove him out the door and lock it after I shut it in his face. I slump against the door, hanging my head with a sigh. My life sucks, and I lay the blame totally on my mother. Oh, I'm not sure the whole spirit thing was her fault, but I'm pretty sure she had something to do with it. I mean, really? She had sex with some strange guy in the woods and somehow I caught all the fallout from it.

::It's almost time. Go to your bed, Tabor Augustus, and wait for us.::

"Tabor." Gautier's voice drifts through the door somehow. "I'll be back. And those of you who haunt him better be prepared to fight me for him."

His footsteps echo faintly as he steps off the porch and into the rain. A chilling laugh rings through my house, and it's time.

After making sure all the lights are off and the doors are locked, I shuffle my way down the hall to my bedroom. I shut and lock that barrier as well, conscious I need to insure no one can get to me before sunrise tomorrow.

I climb under the covers after stripping off my clothes and lie staring up at the ceiling. In my nakedness, I shiver, exposed to all the elements around me, along with all the energy building from the universe beyond my sight. I want to close my eyes, but my experience tells me it wouldn't matter.

The spirits seep from under my bed, released from a box I'm forced to carry with me everywhere I move. I tried leaving it behind when I went to college, but my mother sent it to me, claiming I told her I needed it. It must be stored under my bed as well. My life goes to hell if I try keeping it somewhere else.

Shadows undulate from the corners of my room and chills creep along my fingers and toes. They are stealing my energy and my life force. Each one gets enough to manifest for a few minutes, whether to see loved ones or frighten others, I don't know. I've never asked them what they do with what they take from me. I doubt they would tell me anyway.

I'm merely a vessel for them. Since I don't believe my mother or father had anything to do with the ghosts torturing me, I have no idea how it happened. Yet I hate whoever cursed me with this and I've tried to break it, but to no avail.

Drifting as the spirits tempt me with dark thoughts, I focus on Gautier, trying not to fall into the abyss where I'm so often dragged during these moments. The bright blue of his eyes teases me in flashes, along with images of his smile. I struggle not to let go of all of me, but it's difficult.

::No. We aren't going to let you go.::

The pressure grows stronger after the statement echoes through my head. One of the reasons I have no serious relationship or friends in my life is because the ghosts won't let me. They claim all of me and allow no other ties to me.

Tears form at the corners of my eyes and I grip the sheets as the pain builds. Soon blackness swallows my mind and I lose myself in the swirling, orbiting lights. No point in trying to fight or struggle anymore. They always win, and I always lose a piece of myself each time they do this.