Jillian Nejat is the only dating and relationship expert on the planet who is incapable of speaking to men. If they’re living, if they’re breathing, it’s game over.
With her bank account at zero, her career a dumpster fire, and her dating life in a ten-year slump, she moves into a tiny, dirt-cheap NYC apartment.
Unfortunately, the apartment is already occupied.
Daniel (no-last-name) is a sexy, shirtless, six-pack wielding heartthrob who is also…dead.
He isn’t living. He isn’t breathing. He’s a ghost. He’s also the only man on the planet that Jillian can talk to.
Soon, Daniel’s convinced that it’s his afterlife mission to resurrect Jillian’s love life. He knows, if he helps her fall in love then he can move on. Jillian agrees. The last thing she needs is a Lothario ghost haunting her living room.
But then, one practice date leads to another, one confession leads to more, and suddenly Jillian fears she’s falling for the one man she can never have.
“Ready (French Holiday) delights with this offbeat paranormal romance…Ready’s twisty plot keeps readers guessing how this couple could possibly reach a happy ending.”
Read the Ghosted Excerpt
IF I’D KNOWN MY NEW APARTMENT WAS A SEX MANIAC’S LOVE DEN,
I would never have invited my parents along.
In my defense, it’s not as if the real estate listing explicitly said, “Warning: studio apartment moonlights as center for titillating orgies and acrobatic loving.”
No. It said, “Affordable, quiet studio apartment in Murray Hill, wood floors, street view, unique decor.”
I stare out the apartment’s single, narrow, grime-coated window at the bustling, crowded Lexington Avenue, and watch a city bus chug past. I can almost make out a patch of blue sky between the buildings, muddy and weak, filtering light through the apartment.
Through the open window, the familiar music of buses rumbling, sirens fading in and out, and horns honking swirls to me, carried on the cool spring breeze. I’m airing out the apartment. When we first walked in it smelled like sensual spicy massage oil, sandalwood, and sex. Now it smells like bus exhaust, city dirt, and stale coffee— courtesy of the coffee cart parked on the sidewalk below. Which is…better.
For the moment, I avoid looking at the rest of the apartment, at my parents, and at Fran. I need a minute to regroup.
The key here is to look on the bright side. To look beyond the apartment’s exterior and find the good. You should always look beneath the surface to find the good inside.
So. What’s good?
First, I like quiet. I’m a quiet person. Excessively quiet, some might say. A quiet person and a quiet apartment? What could be better? Nothing, not even erasable pens.
Second, wood floors are lovely. Even the ones that creak, collect dirt between the planks, and are ice cold on your toes— they are lovely.
Third, Murray Hill is close to my office on East 44th Street, which means I’ll save money, because I can walk instead of slogging to work on the subway or the bus.
Finally, it’s affordable. Sensationally affordable. So affordable I don’t have the option to walk away. I just can’t. The low monthly rent, the location, this apartment is the holy grail of Manhattan real estate. Which is why I signed the lease agreement and collected the keys from the harassed, jittery real-estate agent, sight unseen.
I mentally run through the amount of money I have in my savings account, my checking, and on that gift card Fran gave me last Christmas, and, yup, I can’t afford to walk away. So, looking on the bright side, this apartment isn’t an orgasmic abomination, it’s a godsend.
There. See? A godsend.
Pasting a bright smile on my face and smoothing my hands over my baggy gray sweatshirt and jeans, I confidently turn to my mom and Fran. My mom has a deep wrinkle where her eyebrows are pulled
together and she’s frowning, slowly spinning in a circle, as she takes in my new home. The old wood floors squeak and moan as she turns.
I don’t look like my mom, she’s willowy, with wispy blonde hair, green eyes, and a gentle expression. She prefers flowy dresses in pastels and quilted vests. Some people think she’s pretty in an airy, delicate way, but most people agree it’s my dad who’s really good-looking. I don’t take after him either. He’s robust, rough and charismatic, with dark olive skin, black curly hair, and an energy that sucks you in like an F-5
I guess, from my dad, I inherited thick, black curly hair, and from my mom I inherited green eyes the color of spring leaves in the rain. Other than that, I’m just me. Five foot three, happily curvy, with a heart-shaped face, a nose that’s almost too long, and with, well, I suppose my best feature is my mouth. It’s wide, full, and always looks like I’ve just been kissed. Passionately.
My mom always said, “Jilly, with your beauty and your personality, you’ll have to beat off the boys.” But she’s my mom, and she has maternal blindness to all my flaws.
Fran, our neighbor of thirty years, doesn’t suffer from that affliction. She sees me pretty accurately. A decent-looking twenty-seven-year-old with a terminal inability to speak to men. Scratch that. Not all men, just men who are interested in sex. Or dating. Or kissing. Or…breathing.
Fine. All men. Except my dad, my cousin Ari, Michael, and my Grandpa Joe. But anyway, Fran’s here, in her leopard print and diamonds, and she’s smirking at me with a knowing expression. I know that look. She’s imagining all the fun someone could get up to here.
I casually look around the apartment, keeping my expression placid, neutral.
“It’s bigger than I thought it’d be. Really nice,” I say, nodding at the wide, long room. “I hadn’t expected it to be so big…and the location…”
Fran restrains a smile and nods as I list off the attributes.
“And lights. It has lights.” I walk over to the wall and quickly click on and off the single overhead light, a massive, gaudy, Liberace-inspired golden candelabra hanging from the ceiling.
Fran keeps nodding, her leopard print diamant.-encrusted turtleneck sparkling in the blinking lights. My mom keeps turning, inspecting the one-room studio apartment, the line between her brows deepening.
“And there’s a kitchen. With a counter. And a sink. And… floors.” I gesture at the wooden floors, and all my cardboard moving boxes stacked in a neat row on those lovely wooden floors. “This apartment has floors.”
“Jillian?” My mom finally stops and gives me a confused look.
“Hmm?” I bite my tongue and uncomfortably tug at the neck of my sweatshirt.
“Why are there so many mirrors?” my mom asks.
There’s no avoiding it, is there? No matter where you look, there’s a mirror.
The walls, they aren’t painted, or papered, or paneled. No, they’re mirrored.
The ceiling? Mirrored.
The two stairs, leading up to the small elevated platform where your bed goes? Mirrored.
The kitchen cabinets? Yes, indeed, they are mirrored.
The kitchen countertop? It’s not mirrored, but it is stainless steel buffed to such a high shine that it’s like a mirror.
The bathroom? It’s my worst nightmare. Because when I wake up in the morning and stumble to the shower, my hair sticking straight up, my eyes bloodshot, and my face full of pillow wrinkles, the last thing I want is a three-hundred-andsixty- degree mirrored view of everything.
Fran snorts, then says delightedly, “Can’t you tell, Geeta? It’s for eff-you-see-kay-ing.”
I sigh and rub the back of my neck. “You don’t have to spell it, Fran. We’re all adults—”
“Fucucking?” my mom asks, frowning. “Jilly, are you into fucucking?” She glares at the mirrors, “What is that? A cult?”
“The u comes before the c,” Fran sings, but my mom ignores her, frowning worriedly at me.
I shake my head, “No. No, Mom. Not at all. No cults.”
She shrugs and turns back to inspect the apartment— twenty-two feet by eighteen feet of mirrored splendor, chock full of boxes, my brass bed frame and mattress, my white fauxleather couch, my white desk and swivel chair, and my two wooden bookshelves. From the mess, it looks like it won’t all fit, but it will. My last place was fifty-square-feet smaller.
Fran primps her frizzy blonde hair, the black roots showing, and winks at me in the mirror. The breeze blows through the window, carrying up the impatient honk of a car horn. I can hear my dad down below,
arguing with the moving truck driver. It’s one of those “we drive, you unload” companies. We’re all finished except for my box of Star Trek collectibles which my dad promised to be extra careful with.
“It’s not anything like that. It’s unique decor,” I say, reassuring my mom by taking a cue from the real estate listing.
“I like it a lot. All these mirrors really brighten up the space, reflect the light. It’s going to be great for my creativity.”
My mom makes a wincing, disbelieving face, but I don’t blame her. She’s lived in the same Long Island red brick rowhouse for thirty years and the height of her decorating risktaking is a new lace doily for the TV dinner tray.
“I don’t know…” she says.
“It’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside. Try this,” I say. “Listen to those city sounds, the rush of traffic, the people, even the birds. Smell that coffee and…is that bagels? Mmm. Now, close your eyes.”
Both Mom and Fran close their eyes, so I say, “What do you see?”
My mom sighs. “Nothing, Jilly. You told us to close our eyes.”
“But what do you imagine? Can’t you imagine what it could look like?”
“No,” my mom says.
“I think it’d look incredible if you put mirrors on the floors,”
Fran says, rocking back on her heels and humming happily.
“Never mind, you can open your eyes,” I say.
My mom digs in her purse and pulls out a pack of sanitizing wipes, thrusting them toward me. “Here, honey. I noticed the bathroom is dirty. You should wipe it down before you use it.”
I nod. “Thanks, Mom.”
She pats my cheek and I take the wipes and tuck them in my pocket.
“Are you sure you like it?” she asks worriedly.
If I don’t veer her off course, she’ll worry for weeks about me, and call every other hour asking if I wouldn’t be happier in Long Island, living in my childhood bedroom, working as a columnist at The Bargain Shopper’s Mailer for my cousin Ari.
I give her a quick squeeze, enveloped in her lavender scent.
“I love it, Mom. What more could I ask for? It’s close to my work, which I love. It’s near coffee, which I need. And it’s quiet, which is perfect.”
She pats my back, momentarily reassured. “Okay, honey. If you say so.”
My dad stomps into the apartment then, his footsteps booming over the wood floor, a large taped cardboard box filling his arms.
“That’s everything!” he shouts, not because he’s angry, but because shouting is his normal volume.
He drops the box on top of three other boxes, stacking them high. He’s in his usual get-up, which I call safari-man. Khaki buttoned shirt, olive pants, leather boots, leather belt, and a military-style watch, which he’s looking at now.
“We have thirty-seven minutes and fourteen seconds to board the train,” he says.
“Oh my.” My mom looks at my dad with a startled expression. “That soon?”
My dad frowns at the mirrors, the gold candelabra, the gold fixtures, and the deep, boudoir red of the platform’s shag carpet. Then he turns and scowls at me. “The plumbing works. I checked the toilet. The sink. The hot water will scald. For goodness sake, be careful. I noticed the circuit breaker will
blow if you use your microwave and computer at the same time. The window has a lock for a reason, use it. Don’t let any perverts in here.” He scowls at the mirrors. “I left an aluminum bat by the door—”
“Dad, I’ve lived on my own for five years. I know how to take care of myself. It’s fine—”
“And for goodness sake, Jilly, get some paper and cover up these mirrors. It looks like a fun house in here.”
Before I can argue, or object, my dad folds me in a bear hug that squeezes my breath out. “Love you too, Dad,” I say when he steps away and I can suck in some air.
“It’s not a fun house,” my mom says, frowning at my dad, “it’s more like a haunted house.”
I shake my head. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Besides, this apartment was decorated for love not fright.
“If there aren’t ghosts then why do doors sometimes slam behind you?” my mom asks in a long-suffering voice. “And why do you sometimes feel a cold breeze, like a chill?”
“Wind,” I say.
My mom clearly doesn’t agree. “I don’t think so.”
Fran laughs, a happy cackle, and then pulls me in for a goodbye hug. “Don’t forget your date tonight. He’s an orthopedic surgeon, very charismatic. He’s the one, I’m certain of it. You could bring him here after dinner.” Fran waggles her penciled eyebrows at me.
“No perverts!” my dad shouts, stomping toward the door and giving the aluminum bat a meaningful look.
“He’s not a pervert, he’s a surgeon,” Fran argues. “He’d be a pervert if he cut people open for the fun of it, but this is his job. It’s different when you get paid to do it.”
My dad scoffs and my mom looks at me worriedly.
“Don’t worry, I’m not inviting any men into my apartment,”
I reassure my parents.
They’re conservative when it comes to that sort of thing, and since we avoided the mirror fiasco, I don’t want to kindle another fire. My parents’ relationship is family lore and the map for how dating and marriage should proceed: introduced by their parents when they were both twenty-two, first kiss on the sixth date (after Dad asked Mom to marry him), then a wedding, a wedding night, and a kid. Inviting men back to your apartment, pre-engagement kissing, and pre-marital sex are not part of the equation.
Fran gives me a disappointed scowl.
Fran watched me grow up. I spent so many afternoons and weekends at her house as a kid, that I can transport my mind back to her turquoise kitchen, sit at her round wooden kitchen table, and smell the turmeric and mustard seeds frying with onions as she cooked homemade curries on the weekends. Unlike my parents, she’s determined to find me a “lifelong companion.”
To that end she badgers me, nudges me, and blatantly pushes me into blind dates that she arranges using her vast network of friends, acquaintances, and even strangers she meets at the doctor’s office, on the bus, or standing next to her in line at the grocery store. Every few weeks, sometimes even once a week, I’m shuttled into another date arranged by Fran. Some people might wonder why I let Fran do this, or why I keep trying after years of failure. Because. She’s Fran. I owe her this much. More.
And I’m me. And I keep hoping, that even if a man might have more fun on a date with a rock, that someday, someone will see me, and not see what I am on the outside, but who I am on the inside. That man, when he comes, I want to spend my life with him. I know that someday—even though I find it impossible to
speak coherently when a living, breathing man looks at me— that someday, I’ll find the man I’m supposed to love.
There’s a flurry of kisses then, goodbyes, and thank yous, and then my apartment is empty and silent. There’s only me, a few dozen cardboard boxes, and enough mirror innuendo to wallpaper the Chrysler building.
I have a few hours until my date, so I may as well start unpacking. I head for my box of Star Trek collectibles, arguably the most important box here, and tug at the clear packing tape sealing the box shut. The tape sticks to my fingers and the cardboard smell surrounds me as I rip the tape free. I smile, a bite of pleasure filling me as I lift from the crinkled packing paper my rare Franklin Mint USS Enterprise NX-01, the cold pewter of the heavy model smooth in my hands.
“This apartment is kind of like the holodeck, isn’t it?” I ask the Enterprise.
“Now that is one big spaceship,” a man says, his voice deep, rich, and in my apartment.
First Published: September 26, 2023
Publisher: Swift & Lewis Publishing LLC
ISBN: eBook: 978-1-954007-60-4
Large Print: 978-1-954007-62-8