This is what happens when I watch too much television on Halloween.
Duke heard Viola’s laughter before he reached the front door. The knot he’d had in his stomach the entire drive home eased. They’d fought over his decision to take her off rotation, and he hadn’t looked forward to coming home to a battle zone.
“Hey there,” she greeted as soon as he stepped through the front door. “I was starting to wonder if you were ever coming home.”
The sight of her struck him dumb. Dressed in one of his old sweatshirts, cotton shorts, and her hair sticking up in all directions, she’d never been more beautiful. A wide smile lit up her face, her eyes glistened with tears, and she was so damn glowy it made his heart ache.
“Tobias?” Concerned by his silence, she struggled to sit upright in the chair. Before her sock-covered feet could hit the floor, Finn, Pip, and Griff were at her side. She rolled her eyes. Why was it that every male she knew was in overprotective mode?
“Did you hit your head? Do I need to call Abelardo or Bert?” She should have gone with him no matter how much he bitched about it. Luke Trayhorne, his temporary partner, was a good Tracker, but Luke didn’t know Duke the way she did. He couldn’t anticipate Duke’s moves or see past his bravado.
Duke shook himself out of his stupor and smiled reassuringly at her. “I’m fine, sugar. Just awestruck by my lovely wife.”
“What’d you do?” Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Did you hit my car? Did you offend someone at Burkeholt? I swear, between you and foot-in-his-mouth Bas, I spend half my time apologizing for stupid humans.”
Duke crossed the room to drop a kiss on the top of her head. He buried his nose in her hair and inhaled the minty aroma of her conditioner. “I love you, Viola.”
“Okay, seriously, what did you do?”
“Absolutely nothing.” He rocked back on his heels and dangled a white plastic bag in front of her. “I did stop and pick up some trail mix for you, though. The kind with the blueberries and yogurt-covered raisins.”
“Gimme! Gimme!” As soon as the bag was in her lap, she tore open the top and stuffed a handful of the nut and berry mix into her mouth. Her cheeks puffed out like a squirrel’s.
Duke chuckled. “You’re not going to touch another raisin again when this is over, are you?”
“Pr’bly not,” she said while chewing her snack.
Still chuckling, he unlaced and kicked off his boots then turned towards the television. His brow furrowed. He understood her food cravings and the hormones that turned her into a nuclear bomb waiting to go off, but this was a new one. “You hate this show, Vi.”
“I’m just saying because last time I left the t.v. on one these shows and accidentally hid the remote, you lectured me for two hours on how crappy their methods were and how they should be arrested for presenting faked evidence.” He crossed his arms over his chest and arched an eyebrow. “That was after you punished me by making me watch a mini-marathon and pointing out all the errors.”
“So why in the hell are you watching Ghost Grabbers?”
“Move out of the way, son. You’re not transparent,” Paul Duke interrupted gruffly.
Duke spun around, eyes falling on his father. How had he missed that? He stepped out of the way of the television. He was doubly confused. Viola was watching a show she loathed with his father? It was like coming home to find them watching soap operas.
“Sit and have some trail mix, Tobias. The pizza’s on the way.” She grudgingly poured a bit of her treat into Duke’s hands. She shook her head frantically when he started to sit on the couch. “No! Not there. It’s occupied.”
Duke glanced down. He didn’t see anyone on the couch. His father was in the other recliner. The Wfsals and Finn were on the floor near Viola’s feet. He moved to the loveseat only to have her claim it was occupied as well. Growling in frustration, he lifted her off her chair, sat in her warm spot, and settled her on his lap.
“My leg’s going to be numb when I get up to answer the door.”
“I hope, for your sake, that wasn’t a dig about my weight.”
“Of course it wasn’t, sweetness.” Duke reached into her trail mix bag and stole a handful. “Want to tell me what’s going on? We’re having a ghostie viewing party?”
“Yes!” She kissed his cheek happily. “The Ghost Grabbers - ” She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Wannabe know-it-alls pissed her off. “Are at Walker Hotel in Richmond. The hotel’s listed with Spirited Stays.”
“Jerome’s going to be on t.v.,” Paul said. “He bowls with me. My whole team’s here. Jerome said he left a message for me.”
Duke leaned back in the chair, tightened his grip on Viola’s waist. His life was, without a doubt, absolutely crazy. He spent the evening chasing down creatures from other dimensions and watched television with spirits while his sorta-demonic wife ate a food she normally hated. He wouldn’t trade a second of any of it.
“Look! There he is!” Viola pointed at a blur on the edge of the screen. “He’s waving.”
Duke squinted but couldn’t make out a distinct shape. Fortunately, Viola kept her scathing commentary to a minimum. He bit back a laugh as the ghost experts mistook a moth for an orb and the creaking of a door for spirit communication. It wasn’t until the Ghost Grabbers did their evidence review that they heard Jerome’s message.
One of the Grabbers, a hippy-ish twentysomething girl, had asked if the presence she felt in the room had anything to say. The digital recorder had picked up a very clear, male voice. Viola and Paul burst out laughing when the Ghost Grabbers made notes to research the names the spirit mentioned. They’d never make the right connection.
Duke turned quizzical eyes on his wife. “Did he just say, ‘Paul, tell Viola she owes me twenty bucks?’”