Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
A mother’s work is never done.
Not while Sunny has a ghost of a chance.
Her sister and brother-in-law, Honey and Bert, are good
people, no worries. Sunny’s twins will have a loving home with them in Mossy
Creek, a warm-hearted small town in the mountains of Georgia. But Sunny, a San
Francisco voiceover artist before the accident that killed her and her husband,
has bad memories of Honey and Bert’s unpredictable, autistic son, Jeremy. Will
he harm her babies? Sunny’s not leaving until she’s certain they’re safe.
Sabrina Jeffries is the NYT bestselling
author of 36 novels and 9 works of short fiction (some written under the
pseudonyms Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas). Whatever time not spent
writing in a coffee-fueled haze of dreams and madness is spent traveling with
her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions—jigsaw
puzzles, chocolate, and music. With over 7 million books in print in 18
different languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a
budding career in academics for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction, and hopes
that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world. She always dreams
I SHOULD HAVE GONE back to
Mossy Creek for a visit sooner. Like maybe before I died. Then my twin baby
girls would have met their aunt and uncle, Bert and Honey Lyman, while Cam and
I were still around to ease them into the relationship. And maybe now they
wouldn’t be screaming at Honey while she laid them into car carriers in the
back of her beat-up ‘98 Pontiac Lemans.
Shoot, my sister Honey hadn’t
even met their daddy. And no, it’s not what you’re thinking—it wasn’t my
husband who’d kept me from going back to see my sister. From the time I met
Cameron Ross, an executive at the San Francisco movie studio where I did
voice-over work, to the day we had the twins, he’d wanted to meet my family.
They would have liked him,
too, if only because of how he’d taken to me. Just as an example, my specialty
at the studio was a Southern accent. I know, I know, but hey, a woman born and
raised in Mossy Creek whose accent was thicker than syrup had to start
somewhere. I still always worried about it sounding too countrified, but Cam
thought it was "sultry.” Go figure. He found everything I did "warm” or "cute”
or "adorable.” You gotta love a man like that.
Anyway, it wasn’t Cam’s fault
I didn’t go back. Or Honey’s either. Honey and I were close, even if we did
live on opposite coasts. We weren’t the kind of sisters who called each other
up once a year to exchange stilted "how are you’s” and excuses about why we had
no time to write. We were the in-your-face kind, always intruding on each
She’d e-mail me articles
about how to make a Thanksgiving centerpiece with just a burlap sack, some
chickpea hulls, and pumpkin-orange ribbon, and I’d send her a cappuccino
machine. Even though I knew she could be at the Naked Bean in five minutes to
get her own cappuccino.
It was easier than sending
But I was here now, and not
exactly by choice. All because me and Cam hadn’t made a will. We kept putting
it off until we had time. After that freaking bus hit us on the one night we
hired a babysitter so we could go to the movies, the time factor became pretty
After the accident, Cam had
floated right on up the tunnel and into the light—he was sensible that way. You
don’t get to be an executive, even in the movie business, by breaking the
But me, Miss Ever-Loving Rule
Breaker, I was still here. I couldn’t let go of Amy and Anna, especially when I
knew where they were headed. To be raised by our only living kin, Honey and
Bert, in the same house as the Demon Child: Jeremy Albert Lyman.
Where was Jeremy anyway on
this surprisingly icy Georgia afternoon? Why hadn’t he gone with Bert to the
airport to pick up Honey and the babies? Had she finally come to her senses and
sent my severely autistic nephew to an institution? Or at least placed him in a
"How was your flight?” Bert
asked Honey from the driver’s seat.
She flashed him a crooked
smile. "How do you think? I had two babies with me.”
"Couldn’t have been worse
than flying with Jeremy.”
"Want to bet?” She smiled.
"Actually, they weren’t too bad. At least they only screamed at takeoff.”
"So the other passengers
weren’t cheering when you got off the plane?”
She laughed weakly. "No,
thank heaven. I hope I never have to go through that again. Although with the
way Jeremy has improved, these days I think he might actually behave well on a
I snorted. That was Honey’s
latest tall tale—how much better Jeremy had gotten since my last visit. I
didn’t believe it for one minute.
"You look tired,” Bert said.
Honey pulled down the car
visor to examine her face in the makeup mirror. "I guess I do.”
She should have tromped on
the fool’s foot. A man ought to know better than to say something like that to
his wife. Especially a sweet guy like Bert, who bought Honey roses whenever she
cooked him a roast because "roast is a lot of trouble to make.”
Maybe that’s why she didn’t
deck him for his comment. Because one thing you knew about Honey—she loved
Bert. I guess I understood why, even if he did tell corny jokes and run a radio
and TV station out of the renovated barn next to their house.
Honey sat back. "It’s been a
wild week, I tell you—dealing with the custody thing, talking to lawyers and
pediatricians, arranging the funeral—” She crumpled in the seat. "Oh, Bert, I
should have flown out there before. After Jeremy got better, I should have gone
to see Sunny. Now it’s too late.”
With a scowl, Bert reached
over to take her hand. "Don’t you dare feel bad about that. It was a lot easier
for her to come here, and she wouldn’t.”
Just as the old familiar
guilt grabbed me, Honey said, "Can you blame her? On her last visit, Jeremy put
on a real show for her—that was all she remembered.”
Oh, yeah, definitely. Five
years ago, I’d visited them for three days of hell. Jeremy had slapped Honey a
couple of times for trying to keep him from racing down the path to Hank and
Casey Blackshear’s homestead next door so he could jump in the pond on their
property. Whenever he escaped the house, he made a beeline for that scummy
pond. And since he drank the water when he took a swim, Honey wasn’t about to
let him "fill his belly with germs.”
For all her maternal trouble,
she practically got beat up. And that wasn’t the first time either. Nor did he
limit his "challenging behaviors” (isn’t that a nice euphemism for "beating
people up”?) to Honey. He knocked Bert in the back once, and even took a swing
Not that I blamed Jeremy for
being mad about his lot in life. He couldn’t talk or even sign. His weird
obsessions compelled him to patrol the house closing doors and toilet lids and
putting the caps on things. Every time you walked through, he had to come
behind shutting everything. And if you moved the books or videos he kept in
some bizarre order only he understood, he went ballistic.
Jeremy went ballistic a lot.
No, it wasn’t his fault he
was autistic, and yes, I should have been more understanding, but it’s hard to
be understanding after hearing your sister’s head crack against tile when your
nephew pushed her into the tub because she’d tried to make him
bathe—apparently, ponds were fun but bathing wasn’t. Only the grace of God—and
a hard head—kept her from splitting her skull open on the ceramic soap dish
The truth was, the boy
terrified me. I made a resolution then and there. No visits to Mossy Creek as
long as the Demon Child lived in that house.
Yet here I was heading to
Mossy Creek again anyway. Funny how fate messes with your life. Or death, as
the case may be.
Honey sighed. "Sunny never
gave Jeremy a chance, no matter what I said.”
How could I? I knew my sister—she
always put a good face on everything. Like those god-awful outfits she wore.
She claimed it was because she liked it that way, but I knew better. In grade
school, I used to bask in the reflected glow of my older sister Honey. As the
high school homecoming queen, she was considered the prettiest and most
fashionable girl in Mossy Creek.
Now look at her, dressed from
head to toe in khaki. Jeremy always pitched a fit if her clothes weren’t the
same color—he liked brown or a nice olive green. God forbid she should wear a
purple skirt with a goldenrod blouse like the one she’d worn to my junior high
graduation. Jeremy would howl for days.
With a sigh, Honey twisted
around to look at Amy and Anna where they were dozing in the car seats. "I miss
When she brushed away tears,
a lump filled my throat. Well, a lump would have filled my throat if not
for my being dead.
She settled back in her seat.
"And what on earth are we going to do with these babies? It’s been fifteen
years since I had to deal with bottles and diapers and all that crap.”
"No pun intended,” he
Honey rolled her eyes.
He glanced over into the
back. "We made it through puberty with Jeremy, so we can sure make it through
bottles with a couple of rugrats. He’s better about helping out now, too. Maybe
we can teach him to change diapers.”
Over my dead body. Pun
intended. So much for hoping that Bert and Honey had come to their senses. But
now they were pulling into the long driveway that led to our old family
farmhouse just outside Mossy Creek. Somewhere back there, the Demon Child still
lurked, waiting to pounce on my babies.
By the time we pulled up in
back by the barn/TV station, I was practically sitting in little Amy’s lap,
trying to figure out what to do. I peered out at the rambling house where I was
raised, the familiar rub of memory stirring up old feelings. Bert and Honey had
inherited it from Mom when she died, and I had been more than happy to let them
What if I hadn’t? How would
my life have been different if I’d stayed right here? Where nothing changed.
Where the same old red brick chimneys and same old white clap-board siding
graced the family-worn place.
If I’d stayed, I would never
have known Cam and never had my girls. And I wouldn’t be floating around in the
ether, watching for some sign of the boy who would surely be the death of my
"You want me to go over to
Hank’s and get Jeremy?” Bert asked. "Casey said she’d keep him as long as we
Casey had to be nuts. How
could she defend herself in a wheelchair with a boy like that running around? I
don’t care if she had been an Olympic contender in softball—Jeremy was
"I’ll call her and tell her
to have Hank bring him over. We should get these girls inside.” Honey opened
the door and shivered, pulling her flimsy coat tighter around her as she got
out. "Geez, it’s cold out here. I go away for a week, and suddenly the Deep
South becomes the Midwest?”
"Knock, knock,” Bert
I rolled my eyes. Bert and
his stupid "knock, knock” jokes. Why Honey put up with them, I’ll never know.
She just shook her head.
"Who’s there?” she asked as she opened the back door of the car.
"Oldman Winter came down to
She groaned. "Very funny.”
She bent into the car. "Now come on, Old Man Lyman, and take a baby, will you?”
They each took one, which was
a lot easier than taking one in each arm like I always had to do when Cam
wasn’t around. You get used to it after a while, but it’s hard juggling two
babies, especially at feeding time.
Feeding time! I floated over
to glance at Bert’s watch. Uh oh, almost time for their bottles. The girls knew
it, too, because as soon as their bare little faces hit the frosty air, they
woke up on a wail.
Amazing what a motivator
those tiny lungs can be—Bert and Honey got up those stairs faster than you
could say, "bottle.” At the top, Honey shifted Amy to one arm so she could open
the door with the other. "The way these girls cry sometimes breaks my heart.”
Mine, too. In more ways than
one. The crying was why I was still around.
You see, when you die, you
feel this strong compulsion to go after that great light shining at the end of
the tunnel. Especially when you’ve got a guy like Cam at the other end waiting
for you to show up.
But the babies’ cries dragged
at me worse than the undertow at San Francisco’s Baker Beach. I couldn’t leave
my girls. I just couldn’t abandon them.
So here I was, tethered to
them like a balloon. The minute I wandered off, they’d cry, and it would be
like jerking the balloon close. I’d bob up next to them and want to wrap my
arms around them so badly I could practically smell the talcum on their skin.
Practically. I couldn’t
actually smell. It seems that ghosts can’t smell—I’d discovered that early on.
Hearing and seeing seemed to be about it—kind of like watching television, only
you’re in the picture.
Which can be pretty
maddening. I could get right up close, but I could only watch as somebody else
picked them up and cuddled them and fed them. Then after they fell asleep, the
big light would beckon me and before I knew it, I’d be wandering off toward the
tunnel. Until they cried again, and the tether jerked me back.
Today, the tether was shorter
than a shoelace as we came into the farmhouse. I got sloppily sentimental when
I saw our old kitchen table, complete with a half-gnawed leg from the one time
we’d had a pet, a Jack Russell terrier with a hankering for cheap pine.
But it didn’t distract me for
long. While they caterwauled away in stereo, Bert settled into a chair and let
Honey put Amy in his arms, so she could get the girls’ bottles made. And I was
right there, with one ghostly hand on Amy and the other on Anna.
Not that I could feel them,
because ghosts can’t feel either. But it made me feel better to sort of hover
my hand over them as close as I could.
Meanwhile, Honey made her
call to Casey, then scurried about the kitchen, putting stuff together. "Thank
goodness Sunny’s nanny had a brain. You should see the instructions she sent
along for everything from feeding times to bathing. You just add babies and
stir. Although I don’t imagine it’ll be that easy. Did you get the formula?”
"It’s in the first grocery
bag on the counter.” Bert raised his voice to be heard over the babies. "Didn’t
have a chance to unload anything but the perishables. Jeremy and I had just got
back from the grocery when you called from the airport.”
"Who’s handling the station?”
"Win. Said he could handle it
for today as long as Clifford the Clown stayed out of his way.” Bert jiggled
the sobbing babies. "It’s coming, sweet peas, it’s coming. Auntie Honey is
getting it for you right now.”
"Shoot,” Honey said, "the
special bottle nipples for Amy are in the diaper bag, and I left it in the car.
Be right back.” She hurried out the kitchen door.
That’s when the Demon Child
chose to make his grand entrance. He strolled in through the front door big as
you please and headed through the house to the kitchen. If I could have wrapped
my ghostly body around my babies when he walked through the kitchen door, I
would have. Because Jeremy was even bigger than I expected—five foot ten and
two-hundred pounds at least. And he frowned as he lumbered up to tower over
"Hey there, sport,” Bert
said. "Meet your new cousins, Amy and Anna.”
"Amy and Anna,” Jeremy
The boy was what they call
"echolalic.” He couldn’t say "I’m hungry,” but he could repeat whatever you
say, or at least the last part of it.
Right now, however, he was
more interested in scowling at the wailing twins. Oh, right, the Demon Child
didn’t like loud noises. Of any kind. Turning on the vacuum cleaner could send
him screaming into the room to jerk the plug out of the socket. Well, he’d
better not even think about pulling any plugs on my babies.
He walked closer to Anna and
Amy, and I screamed, Stay away from them! For all the good it did. I
might as well have been blowing kisses.
Luckily, just then Honey
returned with the diaper bag. She saw Jeremy and broke into a grin. "Hi,
His gaze swung to his mama. "Hi,
"Jeremy, go out to the car
and get the suitcase. I opened the trunk for you, okay?”
"Okay?” he echoed and stared
Are you nuts? I thought. That boy can no more understand about getting a suitcase
"Outside, Jeremy,” she said.
"Car. Suitcase. Bring to Mama.”
"Bring to Mama,” he repeated,
then lumbered out the door.
I was sorely torn. Should I
leave the twins? Or follow Jeremy? Curiosity got the better of me. I floated on
out to the car. Shoot, Jeremy was actually lifting the suitcase out of the car.
I could hardly believe it.
But then he didn’t do
anything with it, just stood there like a porter at a hotel, protecting the
Honey poked her head out the
door. "Bring the suitcase in, sweetie. Bring it to Mama.”
"Mama,” Jeremy echoed. He
lifted the suitcase and carried it right up the stairs and inside.
I could hardly believe it.
The last time I saw the boy, if you handed him a grocery bag full of potato
chips to carry, he dropped it on the ground and looked at you like you’d asked
him to eat rats.
Maybe Honey hadn’t been
exaggerating when she’d said Jeremy had improved. But as far as I was
concerned, lugging one suitcase did not erase Jeremy’s Demon Child status. Not
yet. I’d seen him compliant before. It lasted about ten minutes. Maybe this was
his ten minutes for today.
"Take it upstairs,” Honey
ordered the boy as he entered the kitchen where she and Bert now sat holding
one baby apiece. Casting the babies a wary glance, he trudged right to the
stairs. At least he wasn’t frowning at them anymore, probably because they
weren’t crying. They were happily sucking down formula in the arms of their
aunt and uncle.
As he disappeared up the
stairs, Honey turned to Bert. "Did you fix up the room for the twins?”
"Did it last night. I moved
the rocking chair from Jeremy’s room into the babies’, and I brought his old
baby bed down from the attic. Until we can get an extra crib, they’ll have to
sleep in the same one.”
Honey stared down at Anna,
who bore her usual Ah-the-joys-of-the-bottle expression. Honey’s eyes grew
suspiciously moist. "I never thought we’d get to use that old baby bed again.”
The wealth of emotion in
those two words brought me up short. Honey had once told me that she and Bert
had decided not to have more children after Jeremy was diagnosed, because
Jeremy was all they could handle. Bert had even gotten himself fixed.
It had never occurred to me
that the choice had been hard. Or that maybe they had even come to regret it.
They sure did seem happy to have my darling girls in their home.
"Do you think they’ll be okay
sleeping upstairs in the guest room?” Bert asked.
No way! I shouted. Jeremy’s
room was upstairs, and Honey’s and Bert’s was downstairs. So who was going to
protect my darlings from the Demon Child?
"They’ll be all right for one
night,” Honey said.
"Sorry I didn’t have enough
time to get that extra room down here cleared out,” Bert said. "With the
weather turning so cold, the furnace started acting up again. I had to work on
it half the morning.”
The scowl crossing Honey’s
genial features looked surprisingly like her son’s. "I told you to hire someone
to fix it.”
"I’ve got it figured out this
time. It wasn’t that hard, really.”
Honey frowned, but still
said, "Who’s there?”
"Don’cha know I love you?”
A laugh sputtered out of
Honey. "That has to be the worst one you ever told.”
He grinned. "It made you
"I’m so tired right now, I’d
laugh at a monkey picking its nose.”
"What a visual.”
"It’s all your fault—you’re
the one who taught me that gross-out humor is better than none at all.”
"And knock-knock jokes.”
She snorted. "Did you get
that baby monitor from Jayne?”
"Then the babies will be all
right upstairs tonight. We’ll clean out the downstairs room tomorrow.”
Amy was fighting the bottle,
and Bert stared at her in typical male confusion. "The girl hasn’t drunk very
much for sounding so hungry.”
"She needs to be burped.”
Honey arched one blond eyebrow. "Think you remember how to do that?”
Bert lifted the baby to his
shoulder with a sigh. "This will take some getting used to, won’t it?”
"Oh, yeah,” Honey said as she
hefted her own baby up to burp her.
Bert looked thoughtful as he
patted the baby’s back. "Do you think we made a mistake, offering to take them?
Do you think we can handle them?”
I tensed, not sure what
answer I was hoping for. If Honey and Bert didn’t keep the babies, I wouldn’t
have to worry about Jeremy. On the other hand, my husband had been an orphan,
and whenever he talked about what that had been like, I knew I didn’t want that
for my children.
Besides, how many people
would be willing to adopt twins? An adoption agency might have to separate the
babies—would I really want that over having them grow up with Honey and Bert?
"It’s like you said,” Honey
replied after a moment, "if we could handle Jeremy, the twins will be a piece
Yes, but could they handle
both Jeremy and the twins? That’s what worried me.
I was just starting to relax
and drift off, half-consciously, toward the white light, when I heard heavy
footsteps on the stairs. Jeremy was back. Oh, no. That jerked my tether tight.
The boy entered the kitchen
and stood waiting until he got his mother’s attention. When she looked at him,
he flicked his hand toward the refrigerator.
Honey glanced at the clock.
"Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry. It’s way past your dinner time, isn’t it?”
"Dinner time,” Jeremy said
solemnly, and flicked his hand again, with more urgency.
"Sit down. I think Anna’s
done eating anyway.” Honey looked over at Bert, but Amy, the slower eater, was
still sucking on her bottle. So Honey took Anna and headed over to where Jeremy
had dropped into one of the ancient kitchen chairs once belonging to our
"Would you like to hold the
baby?” she asked Jeremy.
No! I screamed, so loudly I nearly splattered my ethereal self on the
Jeremy merely repeated, "hold
the baby,” which was just as likely to mean, "Go fix my dinner, woman,” as "I’d
love to hold my cousin, thank you.”
But Honey, who should have known
better, still bent and pressed Anna up against Jeremy’s chest, then placed his
arms in position around the baby. "Hold tight now, sweetie,” she ordered him,
and he squeezed the baby hard enough to startle her into a cry.
"Not that hard,” Honey said
hastily. "Gently. Gently.”
Meanwhile, I was doing the
dance of the dead—hopping from one ghostly foot to the other while trying not
to go insane over the prospect of my sweet darling being squeezed lifeless by
the Demon Child.
He relaxed his grip, but
leveled a severe frown on the crying Anna. For some reason, she found that
humorous. Anna always did have fun with faces. She not only stopped crying, but
started patting his cheek.
"Good job,” Honey told Jeremy
as she went off to make dinner.
Jeremy looked skeptical,
however. As Anna’s little fingers batted at his mouth, he inched his head back
farther and farther until he was bending his neck at an unnatural angle to
avoid the baby’s touch.
I laughed in spite of
everything. Maybe Jeremy was just as wary of Anna as I was of him. The twins
were a lot like him, after all. They couldn’t talk, they expressed their
emotions at an obnoxious volume, and they flailed about and put their hands
where they didn’t belong without rhyme or reason.
But they couldn’t hurt him. And
he could sure hurt them. In fact, Anna now had her tiny grip on his lip and was
yanking it like she yanked the arm of her Ernie doll. When Jeremy opened his
mouth and I saw those teeth of his, I threw myself at him, screaming. Then flew
right through him, which did no good whatsoever.
Before I could even come back
around to try again, however, Honey had returned to whisk the baby from Jeremy,
apparently not even noticing that her deadly son had been about to make a meal
out of my poor child’s fingers.
"Okay, your pizza pockets are
in the oven,” she told him cheerily. Jeremy’s diet consisted of two
things—pizza pockets and burgers. And probably baby fingers. "I’ll be back to
get them out in a minute. Your dad and I are taking the babies upstairs to
I went with them. Not that I
had much choice. I could wander a little away from the babies, but not very
far, not if I didn’t want to get sucked into the light. I’d figured that out
pretty quickly. And going to the light just wasn’t an option right now, not
until I’d hit upon a way to alert Honey to the dangers of Jeremy.
Yes, that’s what I needed to
do—send her a message. My Baptist sister would never attend a séance, but maybe
I could spell out a message in refrigerator magnets or something.
What I needed was advice from
other ghosts about how to haunt the living. Too bad I hadn’t run into any other
ghosts. I wish I had. We could have formed a support group—Dead People
Anonymous. I wouldn’t even have minded being the first to stand up in the front
and say, "My name is Sunny Ross, and I’m a dead person.”
But I was on my own.