The young woman at the real-estate office’s reception desk looked up at me through her gold, angular designer glasses. She must’ve been about my age—twenty-six—but the disdain in her gaze was more like an adult looking at a child they were about to discipline. “I’m sorry, Miss Winters, but we don’t have another key. Fiona, our agent, took it last night. She was going to meet you at the property, but she’s been called out to another urgent appointment. The owner should be able to let you in. Just knock on her door.”

I heavy sighed and tried not to let my frustration show. I’d gotten off a plane from Australia about twelve hours ago and hired a car for the long drive here. Apart from maybe two hours’ sleep in cattle class and four hours’ slumber in a hotel last night, I hadn’t slept much for almost two days. Travelling from Australia to the UK was not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach. I’d thrown up in the airport in Dubai… much to the dismay of the other passengers in the waiting area. Yep, I hadn’t made it to the bathroom in time. Vomit can sneak up on a person. “Do you know if she’ll be home? Can you call her?”

She smiled an evil, I don’t-really-care smile. “She leaves her phone off the hook. I can try, but I bet it won’t ring.”

I gritted out a smile through clenched teeth. Okay, so it was a grimace, not a smile, but I was trying… sort of. Or maybe not. Actually, I was. If I hadn’t been trying, I’d be yelling by now. “Try. Please.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Bit of a cow, that one. Like my ex-wife.” The older man’s voice came from next to me. I wanted to answer, to agree—about the receptionist, not his ex-wife—but since he was likely a figment of my imagination, and no one in the UK knew I was crazy yet, I kept my words to myself. My brain had concocted the seventy-something-year-old when I’d hopped off the plane. His thinning white hair was evenly dispersed on his head. It was light and floaty, like a muppet’s. I didn’t mind him—so far, he always said what I wished I could. I figured it was my subconscious keeping me company. Ever since I’d been struck by lightning, different people followed me around… people no one else could see.

It was why I’d left Sydney.

It was why my boyfriend had left me.

It was why I’d left my family behind. Okay, so I couldn’t blame everything on my mental state—my parents, especially my father, were less than understanding. When I’d come clean about the fact I thought I could see ghosts, they’d laughed at me. Then things got serious—they’d called the psychiatrist and admitted me to hospital for a few days. I came out heavily medicated and stayed that way for months. Now I had to believe in myself. I still wasn’t sure the apparitions were ghosts, but maybe, just maybe my gut was right. In any case, I didn’t have time to think about that right now.

Cow lady with the designer glasses hung up the phone with a flourish and gave me a sarcastic smile. “See. Told you. Just turn up. She doesn’t go out much, and she’s likely to want to check you out anyway. I would imagine she’s set aside her morning to wait for you.”

I wasn’t getting any more help from this one. Best to get on the road and hope the old woman was home. “Ah, what’s her name?”

“Mrs Margaret Collins. Best call her Mrs Collins. She’s not very friendly.” She gave me a forced smile and looked back to her computer screen, obviously dismissing me. The British were known for their good manners. Shame no one had told her.

My heart raced—it knew what I was going to do. “Right, well, thanks for not helping.” Did I really do that? Said what I wanted? Adrenaline shot through my stomach.

Her head snapped up. Her mouth half opened as if she wanted to say something, but the surprise at being called out must have blanked her brain. I hated when that happened… to me. It was satisfying for it to happen the other way around for once. 

Old guy next to me laughed. “Nicely done.”

Before the receptionist could figure out how to respond, I turned and left, my strides longer than normal as I hurried. I wasn’t running away. Not. At. All. Naughty, Avery, giving in and falling to her level. But if it was so naughty, why was it so much fun?

I hopped into my diminutive red hire car, and the old guy appeared in the back seat. I turned to look at him. “You’re a bad influence. I don’t normally speak my mind.”

He laughed, revealing a missing canine. “You should do it more. It’s entertaining.”

I shook my head but smiled. At least with my brain giving me people to talk to—I wasn’t quite ready to trust my gut on the ghosts—I’d never get bored or be alone. The burn of tears took me by surprise. I wasn’t even two days out of Sydney, and I missed my family, even if they weren’t very nice to me. Damn. I was not going to cry. I sat up straighter, wiped my eye with the back of my hand, and turned on the ignition. You got this.

I pulled out into the street. According to my GPS, my destination was only a few kilometres away. Everyone spoke in miles here, but that would take time to adjust to. 

At least the scenery was nice. I yawned.

“Don’t fall asleep there, lassie.”

“I won’t. Especially with you there to keep me awake.” I laughed at how crazy yet helpful that often-maligned state of being seemed to be. Even still, if I could take back being struck by lightning and get rid of these pretend people, I would—ghosts or not. My life, as it had been, wasn’t perfect, but it had been good enough. A little voice—in my actual head this time—told me that maybe I deserved better than “good enough.”

The car crested a hill, and as I drove down the other side, I wrinkled my forehead. Was that what I thought it was? These weren’t more apparitions created just for me by my brain, were they?

Two women wearing revealing white dresses sprinted down the footpath. Their harried expressions were too severe to be because they didn’t like running. Something was wrong. One of them waved at me to pull over. My day had already gone to hell, so why not stop and help? At least I’d feel like I’d done something good for the day.

I pulled to the side of the road, and a young woman with brown hair, and cleavage busting out of the top of her dress, hurried to my window. She was carrying a cat. Could this get any weirder? I wound the window down. “Are you okay?”

“Those men back there are after us. Can we please get in?”

“They look like trouble.” Old guy—I hadn’t asked his name because it was just me, only older and male—made me pause. I flicked my gaze to the rear-view mirror. He shook his head. I scrunched my face up, trying to tell him that he was wrong. He shrugged and gave me his gap-toothed grin. I could also see those men getting closer, and they didn’t look like they wanted to give these women flowers. My eyes widened.

I jerked my head back to look at the stranger at my window. “Yes. Get in!”

Before the women got in, a crackle and sizzle came from behind us. Huh? A huge boom! I jerked my head around and screamed. The footpath exploded, dirt and rocks shooting into the air. Sweat broke out on my forehead. Oh God. Ever since being struck by lightning, anything that sounded like thunder freaked me out. Anything exploding wasn’t good, even if it didn’t come from the sky.

The woman at my window opened the back door and jumped in. The other one opened the front passenger door and practically fell in, her skimpy dress almost exposing everything. The woman in the back seat shouted, “Drive! Drive!”

Without thinking, I slammed my foot on the pedal, simultaneously looking for cars as I death-gripped the wheel. Thank God there weren’t any other cars coming because those men had almost reached us. 

The cat in the back meowed. “Sorry, kitty. I didn’t mean to squeeze so hard.” 

The old guy frowned at my passenger and her cat. Hmm, not a cat person? I loved animals. Weird that my brain would create someone who didn’t like them. 

I accelerated, my small engine whining with the effort. It wasn’t true—red cars didn’t always go faster.

Terror radiated from the woman next to me, her gaze that of a shellshocked person. To be honest, I didn’t feel much better. My hands shook on the steering wheel, and I did my best to breathe slower, more evenly. My first day in England really wasn’t going very well. “W— What the hell of all hells was that?”

The woman in the back seat hesitated before answering. “I don’t know. Maybe they have explosives?”

What kind of country had I moved to? “Right. Okay.” Old guy shook his head at me again via the rear-vision mirror. “Don’t say I told you so,” I mumbled under my breath.

As we reached the next village, the girl in the front passenger seat looked my way. “We’re so sorry, but thank you so much for picking us up. Can you just drive us to the next village?”

“Oh. Ah, okay. That’s where I’m going anyway, I think.” I met the woman in the back seat’s gaze in the rear-view mirror. If I wasn’t mistaken, she was a fellow Aussie.

The old guy next to her said, “Don’t do it. Drop them off here. They’re trouble. There’s something about them I don’t like.”

I shook my head as if to shake his comment off. There was nothing awful I could detect from them. “Is that an Aussie accent?”

She smiled. “Yes. I’m from Sydney. What about you?”

I grinned. Finally, something familiar. “Me too! I’m from Narrabeen. What about you?”


“Ha, cool. I’m Avery, by the way.”

“I’m Lily, and this is my best friend Liv.”

“Hi.” Liv gave a small wave and an even smaller smile.

I didn’t really want to drop them off if they had no help, and unless they had a phone hidden in their underwear, they didn’t appear to have any means of contacting friends. “Do you need to call someone? You can use my phone.”

Lily answered. “Really? That’s so nice of you. Thank you.”

“It’s in my bag, Liv. Just grab it out.”

“Are you sure?” Liv asked, probably wary of going through someone else’s personal belongings.

“Totes.” I had nothing to hide, and I was pretty sure they’d seen everything I had in there before.

Liv bent and grabbed the bag from next to her feet, then pulled it onto her lap and rummaged through. “Passcode?”

“654321.” I chuckled. “Yeah, it’s stupid, I know, but I’ve never lost a phone, and I didn’t want to make it too hard to remember.”

Liv managed a small laugh. “I hear you.” She punched the numbers in, turned, and handed the phone to Lily. “You do it. I’m not sure what to say.”

Lily spoke to someone and explained what had happened. After a minute, she met my gaze in the mirror. “What’s the next town called, the one we’re going to?”

“Manesbury.” The place I was going to start a new life, a better life, so I hoped.

“Okay, thank you.” Lily hung up and handed the phone back through the gap in between the two front seats. We made small talk for the ten minutes it took to reach the village. 

I pulled up in front of the post office, a two-storey freestanding stone building with a thatched roof and red front door. It was as quaintly English as it got. Maybe I was going to like my new home. “Are you two sure you’ll be okay?”

Lily nodded. “Yes. Thank you so much. You literally saved our lives. That guy and his mate kidnapped us and dressed us in these stupid dresses.” Wow, what in Hades?

I gave Liv the once over. There was no doubt about it—they weren’t dresses the average woman would pick for a stroll down the road. “It looks like something a stripper might wear to her wedding.”

Liv looked down at herself, maybe noticing for the first time. “Oh, my. You can almost see my underwear.”

I chuckled. “Almost, but not quite. Your modesty in that area has been preserved. Your cleavage, however, is another story.”

Liv’s cheeks darkened, and she placed a hand over her boobs, which were almost fully exposed. “Oh, God.”

“You can stay behind me, Liv. Come on.” Lily hopped out and leaned in my window. I looked up at her. “Thank you so, so much. You really are a lifesaver. I owe you one. If you ever need a favour, just ring that number that’s in your phone. That’s my boyfriend, Will. He’ll give you my number.”

I smiled as Liv got out of the car. Even though this had been totally wild, I was actually happy I’d met them. I didn’t feel quite so alone in this new country. “Will do. Feel free to call me and let me know if the police catch those guys. I’m not sure if I should’ve moved here now. I just flew in from Oz yesterday.” Was the area around Manesbury more dangerous than I’d realised?

“This was personal. You should be fine. But I’ll let you know when we catch them… um, when they’re caught, rather. Good luck, Avery. I hope your move turns out to be awesome.”

“Me too.” 

The old guy in my back seat said, “Doubt it will. You should’ve stayed in Australia.”

Before I realised what I was doing, I turned and pulled a face at the old dude. Oops. I jerked my head back around to look at Lily. There was no point trying to explain, so I waved and drove away slowly. 

Other than being hit by lightning, my life had been pretty quiet at home. It usually consisted of work and home, work and home, and repeat. Today had been way too exciting, in a bad way.

I took a deep breath and tried to take in the village I’d be calling home. Quaint stone buildings lined the narrow main street, pretty signs declaring Best Breads Bakery, Crafty Crafters Craft Supplies, and Heavenly Brew Café hung in a welcoming line in front of the row of shops.

The old guy in my back seat laughed. “You’re not off to a very good start, are ye, lassie?” Grrr. I looked in my rear-view mirror and scrunched my face. If only my brain wouldn’t interrupt when I was with other people. It would be fine if my invisible friends showed up when I was by myself. I knew I was different, and I could live with it. It was only a problem when others were around.

I shrugged off my irritation—it was time to find my accommodation. Hopefully, getting the keys and settling in would be drama-free. Except, with the day I was having, the chances of that were slim to none.