The Halfway House resembled a cheap motel, one with hourly rates and special “fantasy suites” in the basement. But, of course, fantasies did not exist here.
When Luc opened her door, Jodie stepped inside the drab room and shivered. “Nice.” Acid dripped from her tongue, but she didn’t hold back. “Are all the rooms here as shabby, or did you pick this one especially for me?”
Leaning against the door jamb, her new trainer shrugged, his face impassive, arms folded over his chest. “Every suite’s the same.”
Lovely. Black walnut paneling made the small accommodations appear to close in on their occupant. To the left of the entrance sat a long wooden counter with two high-backed stools. The utter desolation of the room brewed silence between them like burnt coffee. The only noise came from the corner where a wind machine hummed a dirge.
Jodie gingerly touched the vibrating vent on the machine. “Is this what I think it is?”
“An air cleaner,” he replied. “Well, the Afterlife’s version anyway. Look.” He ran a finger over the sleek top and sides. “No on-off switch. No plug. It doesn’t exactly work the same way the ones on Earth work, but the goal is the same.”
She quirked a brow. “Which is…?”
“To eliminate any possible scents from the air. Odors trigger memories. And the Board frowns on memories.”
“Yeah, well, they seem to frown on suicides, too,” she murmured.
“Shit.” Luc stared her up and down, disapproval etching deep lines in his brow. “You’re a suicide?”
A huge fireball of embarrassment clogged her throat, sending heat into her cheeks, and she nodded.
“I should’ve known.” He jerked his dark head toward her scarred hands. “What’d you do? Set yourself on fire? Please tell me you’re not some religious fanatic.”
Hiding her hands in the voluminous folds of the toga, she glared at him. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no. I’m not a religious fanatic and I didn’t set myself on fire.”
If she could set anything on fire, it’d be him. With twin lasers she’d shoot from her eyes. Until she’d reduced the arrogant jerk into a glowing spot on the ugly orange carpet at her feet. Oh, yes, she could picture him there, sizzling to nothing more than another black scar in a cornucopia of old stains.
“So why did you kill yourself?” His mocking tone interrupted her private fantasy. “Some guy broke your heart?”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know that?”
With the slow grace of a panther on the hunt, he strolled closer. “No great stretch. It’s why most women commit suicide. Over some idiot.”
Could she kill someone already dead?
“Gabe wasn’t an idiot.”
“No?” He hitched a hip against the first stool, and then tapped two fingers on his chin. “Let me see. You’re here—dead by your own hand. And he’s still on Earth.” He arched a brow, questions shining in his diamond eyes. “I take it he’s very much alive? Which means one of you is an idiot. So, who is it? You or him?”
Me. But she wouldn’t admit that. Not to him. Not to anyone. “What about you? Who was the idiot in your life? You or her?”
His posture turned to granite, stiff and unyielding. “Me. Definitely me.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “You killed yourself over a woman?”
Bitter laughter exploded from her lips. “No, of course not. Men don’t commit suicide over women. They do it over business problems or gambling debts or drug addiction. Some secret vice that no one knew about until it was too late. What was your vice?”
She cocked her head. “Excuse me?”
“Never mind.” He waved a hand, and then turned to encompass the rest of the room in one sweeping gesture. “As you can see, you’ve got everything you’ll need to be comfortable here.”
Was he kidding? Mud huts in Central America were cozier.
“Oh, yeah, there’s plenty here to occupy me.” Strolling the small area, she catalogued the discrepancies. “No television, no radio, no books, no windows.” When she reached the opposite side of the room in about ten steps and found nothing to touch or fiddle with, she frowned. By God, the walls looked practically sterile in their emptiness. “Where are the scenic paintings of a country road in autumnal splendor or an empty white wicker chair on a sunny, flower-filled porch, sleeping cat optional?”
A smile crept into his features, and for a moment, she glimpsed a charming man behind the viper in black. “The Board forbids anything that might bind a soul to Earth. Not even a clock is tolerated.”
“Time holds no sway here in the Afterlife.” He sighed. “Except for those like us, who tick off the days, the hours, the minutes, serving the Board in some low-level capacity until we can at last, move on.”
She shook her head. “Welcome to Death’s waiting room.”
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