After former party girl Nikki Ashburne accidentally overdoses and briefly dies, she wakes up able to see ghosts.
A good thing, because she lost all her other friends in the process. Now she runs ghosts tours of Los Angeles with her spirit-friends' help.
So when someone starts exorcising the ghosts of Hollywood, Nikki scrambles to find the perpetrator before her livelihood—and her only friends—vanish forever.
Come for the ghosts. Stay for the snark.
Just keep your mitts off Nikki's friends.
I am so excited to read this book. I have nagged Dayle for years, literally years, to write her promised Nikki Ashburne novel. Dayle kept telling me that Ghosted was nearly done, but she kept publishing other novels instead.
I first fell in love with Nikki Ashburne when she started appearing in various issues of Fiction River. Her short adventures are fun. Her attitude is snarky and warm at the same time. But short is no substitute for losing yourself in a novel.
So when I started planning this bundle, I didn't just ask Dayle to be in it. I asked if she could give me Ghosted, hoping that would inspire her to finish it. I'd like to think it did (although she finished the book the next week, so I suspect she had a head start).
Ghosted is one of our new releases. It has been out for a little over a month, and I, for one, can't wait to start reading. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
What would you do if your friends started disappearing, and you didn't know how to stop it?
What if all of those friends were ghosts?
Dude, if you'd asked me that a year ago, I would've told you that was a great pitch line, but my father's the movie producer, not me. I wouldn't have thought you were serious, and if you were, I would've laughed so hard my tequila sunrise would've shot right out of my nose.
Then it happened to me. And nobody's laughing.
You know how in movies, someone will be at a loud party, but they seem to be in a bubble where the sound barely filters through? That was how I felt right now. Around me, people laughed and talked, house music pounded, but it was all…distant.
I moved slowly, making no sudden movements so I didn't break the sphere, which I imagined was thin like a soap bubble, completely invisible.
I still wore the stylish black dress I'd worn earlier today to the funeral; I hadn't wanted to go all the way home to change, although I'd taken off the little hat with the attached veil. No normal twenty-something owns hats like that, but I'd worn it when I played Mourner #5 in one of my father's scream flicks, and I'd kept it, because it was cute. Wardrobe never noticed.
I think my abuelita, Grandma Rosa, would have liked it.
I'd left directly from the graveside service to come to the party because I needed the familiar, my comfort zone. But everything felt wrong, different.
I felt different.
Drink in hand, I moved through the crowd, half-seen. It wasn't my first drink of the evening. Gin and tonics, that's what I was drinking this week, because I'd noticed they were what Evan Frohman was drinking, and maybe we could bond over them. After that, I could ease back to drinking things that didn't taste like tree vomit.
We were in a trendy, modern house in the Hollywood Hills—I had no idea who owned it—one that used to be chrome and glass but now, after renovation, was some odd combination of shabby-chic French with Asian accents, and faux-rustic, grey-weathered boards on the walls with painted inspirations like "Breathe" and "Live." On the other hand, the deck, which overlooked the glittering lights of Tinseltown, was all glass, to give a dizzying illusion of being suspended in midair.
Wile E. Coyote, I am not. But I could appreciate that the view was spectacular, even as I clutched the nearly invisible edge of the railing with one hand.
My name is Nikki Ashburne. Yes, the daughter of Edward Ashburne, mega-producer, king of the teen sex comedy, sultan of the revival of nighttime soaps. And this (imagine me sweeping my hand over the midnight vista) is my playground.
Yep, I was definitely getting tipsy. Not drunk—not yet—but tonight, unusually, I was steadily working on it.
Even out here, the air clogged with pricy perfume and aftershave. Even out here, I couldn't seem to drag in a full, clean breath of air. Smog wasn't the problem; affluence was.
I raised my glass to that.
Voices invaded my bubble.
"No, she definitely had a nose job. That whole thing about losing baby fat in your cheeks so your nose looks slimmer is bullshit. I know, because I got a nose job for my eighteenth birthday."
"Seriously. Why not just admit it? Almost everybody gets something done for graduation."
"Did you hear about Missy? Another DUI. They're talking about rehab."
"Well, she has got to learn to hold her phone lower when she's texting, because then the cops don't see it."
"Who calls them tapes anymore? Shit, Becca, you sound like my mother…"
A jumble of voices, but I recognized them all: my peeps. Chris, Eden, Jessica, Samantha, Kayla. They tumbled onto the deck in a flurry of glitter, fashion, and sky-high heels.
"There you are," Eden said, flipping her long blond hair over her shoulder in a motion I'd watched her practice in the mirror. "We've been looking for you everywhere."
"Sorry," I said before I could stop myself. "Just not in the mood to tear down someone just because they made a bad choice."
"What is up with you tonight?" Jessica asked.
"My grandmother died, remember? Today was her funeral." I felt disconnected as I said it, as if it had happened to someone else. As if I were (freely admitted) a less-than-stellar actress reciting her lines.
Even as I felt disconnected, I knew it was wrong. I was aching—no, it was a sharp pain. Stabbity stabbity in my gut. I downed my drink. I tried to set the highball glass on the balcony, but there was no real balcony, and the glass toppled down to the scrub below.
If anybody noticed, they didn't comment. Or, probably, care. Wasn't their glass.
Although I'd probably be a story later. Pity, I wasn't even all that drunk.
I'm never going to whine about how awful my life is, but the fact is, it's not easy growing up in the public eye. Everything I did was credited to my father paving the way—certainly I wasn't pretty enough or talented enough or smart enough. Daddy and I get along great, but he's Edward Ashburne, for crying out loud, which means he's busy. And my mother…oh, I did not want to think about my mother right now. I'm not saying she never loved me, but I had been a useful accessory until I got old enough to disagree with her, and then old enough to put her own admitted age in question.
So I'd spent a lot of time with Grandma Rosa, Daddy's mom, over the years. She had her own house on the estate, and even set up a bedroom for me there, and she'd taught me how to make tortillas and read lines with me and told me that I was pretty and talented and most importantly smart enough.
Now she was dead, and I didn't know where to turn. She'd given the best hugs, and I wanted one of them, and I couldn't feel her smooshing me against her ever again.
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry," Chris said, hugging me. It was a sincere hug as embraces go, but she still made sure not to smudge her makeup.
Chris Yeates, my best friend, my partner in crime, etc. Stunning blond (via a stunning hairdresser) with curves (some of which were financed), star of the reality show Young and In Love (although everyone, including Chris, knew that her "in love" was gay, albeit a great friend). She'd been bugging me to do a cameo on the show.
Maybe next week.
Unless they were filming tonight and I'd have a release form shoved in my face on the way out.
They all swarmed me now, each trying to outdo the others with her false sympathy—even, on the periphery, Asia McBride, who was practically a nobody, a wannabe. How had she even been invited here?
A flurry of sympathy: so sorry, oh darling, hugz, sweetie, what can we do.
"Thanks," I said, blinking back tears. "The funeral was hard…"
I realized my mistake as they went blank. They were sympathetic, but not to the point that I was allowed to bring down the party atmosphere. They'd done their duty—wasn't that enough? Why was I still going on about it?
My grandmother was dead, and all my friends needed everything to be normal.
"Thanks," I repeated, flashing the winning smile I'd learned when my mother entered me in those awful pageants. I mimed shaking an empty glass, since mine had flung itself to its doom. "Let me get a refill, and then you can tell me all about Missy—did she do a duck face for the mug shot again?"
My bubble and I drifted back through the house, through the cigarette and pot smoke, the throb of bass, past Evan who was doing one-armed pushups, surrounded by a throng of admirers.
This time, I asked for a double shot of tequila, which the bartender provided because bartenders at these types of parties are paid not to ask questions or spill to the press afterwards.
I downed it in three gulps, which burned like hell but made me feel badass for three-tenths of a second. I blinked rapidly to avoid messing up my mascara.
I got another G&T, because I needed something in my hand. I started back for the balcony, but I just didn't have the energy to put on the face they wanted to see.
Evan was now standing on a coffee table for some reason. I saluted him with my drink, and he winked.
I didn't have the energy to do more than flash a smile, but when I felt better…
The pain rolled through me, fresh as a thousand paper cuts splashed with lime juice and salt. How could I ever feel better? How could that be possible?
That's when I saw them. No, not ghosts—that would come later. Although these, and this choice I was about to make, would forever haunt me.
The pretty crystal bowl of pills, pink and blue and yellow like cheap candy from a piñata. Candy that offered way more than a sugar rush.
I'd never done drugs. Never really considered it; despite tonight's chase-the-pain-away efforts, I wasn't even that much of a drinker beyond a few social glasses.
My bubble seemed to increase in strength; the world, the party, the people all seemed more distant. I looked around. No one was watching me—but that's not why I looked. I wasn't feeling guilty, and I was certainly far from the first person here to indulge. In very great hindsight, I think I was looking for someone to break the bubble, to connect with me. But I was alone. Hurting and alone.
And this seemed like the only way to numb the pain. Couldn't make it worse, right?
I have no idea what I chose. I just sort of grabbed two, slid them down my throat with a sip of fizzy pine sap.
I went back out on the deck, already feeling numb from the tequila, and rejoined my friends, smiling and dropping random comments when I was expected to.
And then I started to feel awful. Not just alcohol-spinning awful—I knew this was worse. I knew I'd fucked up, badly, and the horror that comes with that knowledge washed through me. Blackness swarmed at the edge of my sight, and for the second time that night, I dropped my drink. Someone must've realized what was going on because I heard shouts about calling 911 and then everyone was swarming again and I was heading for lights-out.
Kids, don't try this at home.
There's a lot I don't remember. I have no memory of the ambulance ride, which sucks because I would've liked to have experienced the siren. Is it like on TV? Maybe I'll never know.
I don't remember the ER, which is probably a good thing. Well, I have a vague sense that there was some shouting, and sharp smells, and I'm guessing they stuck tubes down my throat, but who wants to remember that?
This is what I remember: somebody pinching my arm, and then waking up in a room that would have been quiet except for some infernal machine making a pinging noise and some other machine humming.
It was worse than a hangover. My tongue felt fuzzy and my mouth was coated with some thick goo that tasted like battery acid. I reached for water and that made my arm pinch more, so I reluctantly opened my eyes.
I did not know that acoustic tile ceiling.
Everything came into focus slowly, including my brain. I took in the IV—the source of the pinching—the whiteboard on the wall across from the foot of my bed with the date and time and "your nurse's name is Jeannie"; the annoying puffs of air in my nose that turned out to be an oxygen feed; the streaking sunbeams that made me squint.
I felt kinda floaty, and yet my head hurt, which seemed unfair.
I'd learn later that I had a very nice private room in a wing of the hospital most people don't even know about. The rich-and-famous wing. The spare-no-expenses wing.
Even though my bed was propped up a bit, it took me several tries to struggle into something resembling a seated position. There was a pitcher of water and a Styrofoam cup and a straw on a rolling tray table, but they were way beyond my abilities to reach, much less hold on to.
"Hello?" Well, I tried to say it. I mostly kind of croaked through my Death Valley of a mouth.
The money-has-no-object wing doesn't include a nurse who can't take potty breaks, apparently.
I was looking around for some sort of call button—slowly, because if I turned my head too fast, the room went all spinny, but in a slow-motion kind of way that still made me want to hurl—when I realized there was, in fact, someone in the room with me.
Someone who hadn't been there a moment ago, and who hadn't come in the door.
My abuelita, my beloved grandmother—the grandmother whose funeral I had recently attended (How long ago was that? How long had I been here?)—was sitting on the bed.
It was the drugs. Had to be. Making me hallucinate.
She was the same fireplug of a woman I'd seen buried, wearing the royal blue suit she'd had on when she died, with the gold peacock brooch with precious gems in the tail that she'd loved so much—the first major purchase my father had made after his first movie that made it big—pinned on the lapel. (My mother had thrown a royal fit when she'd learned Grandma wanted to be buried with it. I'm surprised she hadn't figured out a way to sneak into the funeral home and replace it with a fake. As if my mother's jewelry wasn't all a gazillion times more expensive.)
It was my grandmother, all right, her skin tanned and wrinkled, her hair as black as the last day she'd dyed it, her dark eyes flashing like they did when she beat me at Rummikub again.
Only that wasn't teasing, affectionate triumph in her gaze.
No, her expression was dead clear (pardon the pun): she was royally pissed off.
I tried to say something, but the lack of saliva tripped me up again.
It probably wouldn't've helped.
Because my grandmother said, "Nikki Elizabeth Ashburne, how could you be so stupid?"
Her palm cracked against my cheek. The sting of it slapped through my prescription-drug floatiness, and I sucked in my breath.
"Don't you ever do something like that again!" Grandma Rosa hissed, and then she was gone.
Just, poof, gone.
I might've been able to explain it away as a hallucination if my mother hadn't walked in right then, seen the handprint on my face, and raised holy hell. Shrieking was involved. Lawsuits were threatened. Mayhem ensued.
In the quiet center of the vortex, finally sipping some blessed cool water through a bendy straw, I accepted the truth. My life was no longer what it had been.
I could see ghosts.