Ghosts can’t hurt the living? The Darke sisters know otherwise.
Edwina Darke is one of a trio of ghost-hunting sisters who rid clients of their unwanted supernatural visitors. A badass by nature, Edwina doesn’t run from haunted houses—she runs into them. Yet no matter how many “ghosts” she debunks, she remains troubled by a demon from her own past.
Simon Teal is the co-owner of a historic B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, a town famous for its connection to the 1812 War. Simon doesn’t believe in the spirit world, but something is chasing his customers away, so he reluctantly allows the Darke sisters to investigate.
As the team uncovers the star-crossed love behind the B&B haunting, Edwina and Simon’s attraction flares. It’s the last thing either of them needs. The dedicated Edwina refuses to lose herself in another relationship, and Simon is still reeling from a terrible betrayal.
When a darker presence reveals itself, triggering their protective instincts, Edwina and Simon succumb to temptation. But the evil entity has taken an interest in them, and if they don’t solve the mystery, someone new could end up going “into the light.”
And it could be one of them.
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of on page violence, possession and murder. There are references to sexual assault and coercion.
General Release Date: 21st March 2023
Edwina Darke clicked her keyboard with the fury of an avenging angel, removing yet another crude comment from her YouTube post. She called to her sisters in the other room. “Hey, listen to this one. ‘Cute video, girlies. Now show us your tits!’ Gross. Delete, delete, delete.”
Her sister Susannah brought her a coffee. “Ed, you need to stop worrying about comments from random dudes. They’re like the Hydra. You can delete one, and two more will pop up.” She peered over Edwina’s shoulder at the screen. “Besides, I’m pretty sure ‘Gary69lover’ is no authority on paranormal research, or anything else for that matter.”
Their other sister, Adelaide, sat in the plush corner chair and nursed her coffee. “Methinks Gary doesn’t get to see a lot of tits. He has to go online and beg.”
Adelaide’s evil chuckle soothed Edwina’s temper, but only a little bit. “I hate these guys. Every time we upload a new video, the comments start. I bet you any money that ‘Gary’ is a cover for Walter Tipton. He’s exactly the sort of person who would set up fake accounts to harass us. Tipton’s pissed because we’ve captured more credible anomalies on camera in one year than he ever has.”
Susannah pulled one of the kitchen chairs into the living room and sat opposite Edwina. “You really think Tipton’s trolling us?”
“Who else could it be?” said Edwina. “I could understand a few random trolls popping in here and there, but this Gary dude seems to have made it his mission to discredit us. Plus, he keeps posting links to Tipton’s site in the comments. Walter’s got, maybe, seventeen subscribers on YouTube, and he’s a dinosaur. Somehow, I just don’t think his followers are all that keen. It’s him, all right.”
“I don’t think so. The last time we ran into him, I asked Maria to tell me what she sees,” Adelaide said. “She says his left knee is causing him a lot of pain right now, which puts him in a bad mood. Also, his wife has begun divorce proceedings. He’s got other things on his mind.”
Edwina and Susannah traded looks. There were many things that set Adelaide apart, but her references to her spirit guide Maria still managed to throw her sisters off kilter. It wasn’t so much that she had a spirit guide—Maria had been clinging to Adelaide ever since they were kids. It was more the fact that Adelaide constantly referred to her as if she were an invisible fourth sister.
Even though it wasn’t new, it still made Edwina uncomfortable. She always felt like she was being watched by some creepy Edwardian-era kid. She dismissed her misgivings about Maria. “Darke Paranormal Investigations is my baby. We can’t afford to have someone fucking with our reputation. It’s hard enough being women in a field dominated by men. I want DPI to be a success.”
“We all do.” Susannah checked out her polished nails. “But you stress out about this stuff too much. Paranormal investigation is our hobby. We all have careers.”
“I still want us to be seen as the best. When people in Ontario think of paranormal investigators, I want them to think of us. You know, instead of all those jacked-up guys on the TV shows, running around cold cellars, chasing orbs and shouting at each other.” Edwina couldn’t help feeling competitive. She was in every other area of her life. Why not this one?
“DPI’s reputation is solid, and it’s only going to get better.” Adelaide’s tone was calm and assured.
“You don’t know that,” Edwina argued.
“Yes, I do know it. Besides, Maria said so.” Adelaide’s shoulders slumped. “I really thought that by now you would be more inclined to believe what I see. I haven’t been wrong yet. But that’s Edwina Darke for you, always a skeptic.”
“Someone on our team has to be skeptical. I don’t doubt your abilities, Addy, but you know as well as I do that not every anomaly is supernatural. Sometimes it really is just dust on a camera lens.”
Edwina’s kneejerk reaction was always to play devil’s advocate, which sometimes came across as not trusting Addy. She did trust her. After all, in being her sister for thirty-odd years, she’d seen some freaky shit. It had been Adelaide’s psychic talents that had allowed them to capture the phenomena they had. She always seemed to know just where to look, enabling Edwina and Susannah to document the hauntings. Thanks to those videos, they’d snagged their first grateful clients and their YouTube subscriptions had skyrocketed. DPI had only been operating for a year, but they’d already cleared several properties of unwanted spirits, while debunking other manifestations.
But Adelaide was right. Edwina was a proud skeptic. Although their mom’s side of the family was “sensitive,” she tended to align with her dad’s way of thinking. A math teacher, he’d taught her to question everything. Although she’d always been fascinated with the world of the paranormal, she also believed most “hauntings” could be explained.
Her real job also played a part in her beliefs. Her BFA in Stage Management had allowed her to work for the past few years in the Toronto theater scene. She worked backstage for local opera and ballet productions, numerous musicals and even some work at the Stratford Festival. As a theater tech, she’d learned how to create illusions with light and sound. She was familiar with all the tricks, and she knew how easily and how effectively a haunting could be staged.
So, an anomaly had to be spectacular to impress her.
If only her own sister wasn’t a spectacular anomaly.
Adelaide was part of the reason Edwina and Susannah had developed an interest in the spirit world. Edwina’s fascination went down a different path, though. At around the age of seven, Edwina had seen something in her bedroom that had disturbed her so much, something for which she had no explanation, that she’d made it her mission to learn everything she could about the paranormal world.
Now, at age thirty-five, there was nothing she liked more than being able to debunk unnatural phenomena. Every time they heard of a new haunting, it reminded Edwina of the terror she’d experienced as a child. The feelings of fear and anxiety would return, as well as horrible nightmares. Each time they managed to unshroud a supposed ghost, she was able to regroup a little. Finding explanations restored balance and peace to her life, and to the lives of the people they helped.
Was it possible she’d never really confronted what she’d seen in her bedroom all those years ago? Absolutely, but she sure as hell wasn’t ready to do it yet.
So, yeah. She took their business seriously, even though they never charged for their services. No legitimate ghost hunter would. Most of them were in it for the thrill and for the purpose of acquiring knowledge. The women of Darke Paranormal Investigations simply wanted to help people feel at ease in their own homes. And if they could document compelling anomalies for the internet crowd while they were at it? Even better.
Edwina was the techie of the group, and she was never happier than when fiddling with K2 meters and spirit boxes—the tools of the trade. As a historian, Susannah provided the background information they needed for each investigation. And Adelaide…well, she talked to ghosts. She had from a young age, and while the others did their best to take it in stride, it certainly made life interesting.
As a team, they worked well together, except for those moments when Adelaide and Edwina butted heads about the authenticity of a haunting. It happened often, and had resulted in several heated conversations.
Susannah commandeered Edwina’s laptop. When her eyebrows danced, Edwina thought another comment from ‘Gary69lover’ had come in. “What is it now?”
“I think we might have a new assignment,” said Susannah. “There’s an email from some guy in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Does the name Simon Teal mean anything to you?”
“Simon Teal,” repeated Adelaide, drawling. “He sounds dreamy, like he could be the hero of a romance novel. A highwayman, maybe! No, a roguish duke with a terrible secret.”
Edwina rolled her eyes. “Or another of Walter Tipton’s aliases? Maybe Gary wasn’t flowery enough. Let me see.”
The email read:
I’m the co-owner of the historic King Street Bed and Breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s a beautiful property in the heart of the tourist district. For the last few months, my partner and I have been dealing with strange phenomena at the property. Doors slamming, unexplained noises, that sort of thing. Some of my guests have experienced much worse. There have been reports of shadow figures, faces appearing in mirrors and voices coming from empty rooms. Our last few guests all complained of “feeling watched” when they were alone. Several said the covers were pulled off them in the middle of the night. One couple claimed they were touched and shoved. It’s affecting our reservations and has become a concern for our dwindling staff. We need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.
My partner Connie is more open-minded, but to be honest, I’ve never believed in ghosts. That being said, I have no explanation for what’s happening. Something here is just not right. Can you please let me know if you can help us?
Edwina was just about to open up another tab on her laptop when Susannah spoke. “I’m already googling it on my phone. Ooh, it’s a nice bed and breakfast. Very swanky.”
Before Susannah held up her phone, Adelaide put her hands over her ears and stood. “La la la la la la la la. I don’t want to know anything about the place before I step foot inside it. Tell me when it’s safe to come out.” Adelaide raced off to Edwina’s bedroom and shut the door. A moment later, they heard tinny music coming from her phone.
Adelaide made it a practice to know as little as possible about each location before they conducted any vigils. There would always be those who questioned her credibility, but the chances lessened if she went in unaware of the history.
Susannah lowered her voice. She held up her phone so Edwina could see the display. “Lots of history in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Fort George is nearby, as well as Fort Mississauga. And from what I can see here, the old barracks aren’t far away from the property either. This sounds promising.”
The hairs on Edwina’s arms bristled. This was exactly the sort of case they loved. Because they were dealing with a house, the square footage wouldn’t be huge, and it wouldn’t be hard to test for drafts and creaky floors and all the other common occurrences that led homeowners to think they were haunted. It probably wouldn’t take them long to debunk all those slamming doors and weird noises. They’d certainly dealt with larger properties.
She quickly reread the email.
Simon Teal. He really did sound like he belonged in a Regency romance. A picture of the bed and breakfast owner formed in her head, one of him wearing pantaloons and a cravat.
Niagara-on-the-Lake wasn’t far from Toronto, and she happened to love the place. Maybe they could book one of the cute boutique hotels in town as their base. An excited shiver danced down her spine.
Something here is just not right. Teal’s words of concern repeated in her head.
From deep in her consciousness, a dark memory teased. Once again, the image of the terrible apparition from her childhood appeared in her mind. Gnarled and growling, it reached for her.
She blinked a few times to banish it.
She had never been able to debunk that anomaly, and it haunted her. She’d have to settle for debunking as many of the others as she could.
Resolved to silence the demons that had plagued her since she was seven, Edwina sent Simon Teal a reply.