Vacancy by Linda Kage


BOOK 1 in The Seven Series
Contemporary New Adult Romance
with Paranormal Elements

Orginally published 13 December 2023
128,775 words, 398 pages
4-Flame Sensuality Rating

How do you rent a room from a ghost without even knowing it?

This year was supposed to be different because Oaklynn had a plan.

Stop partying.
Stay away from guys.
Focus on classes.
Graduate!

All she needed to do was find a place to stay near campus, and she’d be set. But when she finds the perfect room to rent, it brings the mysterious Damien into her life.

Her friend tries to warn her that he’s dangerous. He has secrets and darkness in his eyes. But the only danger Oaklynn can tell that he poses is to her attention. He’s all she can think about. Except, he’s hiding something, and when the truth comes out that her new roommate was murdered…a decade ago…nothing will ever be the same again.

So yeah, this year will definitely be different.

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

“Alright, bud. Here we go. This looks like the place.”

I glanced up from the book I was reading—or at least pretending to read—and peered out the back side window of the car as my dad pulled into a tightly packed parking lot.

Across the street, I saw the building he was referring to. It was a dull, tan thing that hogged the entire block with short walls, a flat roof, and high-set windows like a prison. But it wasn’t prison.

To me, it was so much worse.

The Westport Children’s Trauma and Grief Counseling Center was the absolute last place on earth I wanted to go, but both of my parents had decided I would, anyway.

When I saw a woman walking toward the entrance carrying a girl who had pigtails in her hair and looked as if she was only two or three years old, I cringed. I couldn’t join some bereavement group with a bunch of babies. What would that make me look like?

“Dad, seriously,” I tried with one last-ditch effort to bail. “I think I’m doing better now. I don’t need—”

“Damien,” he cut me off with a stern voice that told me there was no changing his mind. “We already talked about this. And you agreed. You were going to stick with it for a full month just to see what it was like.”

Yeah, except I could see what it was like from here. I wasn’t impressed.

“But—”

“End of discussion.”

Huffing out a breath, I slumped down in my seat and frowned as he whipped into a free parking spot and cut the engine.

So this was why he had brought me, not Mom. Mom was the softy. All I would’ve had to do with her was pull out one of my mopey faces and she would’ve already caved by now. We could be halfway home—and probably with ice cream—if she’d brought me.

But I guess my parents were getting too smart. A mopey face around Dad only seemed to convince him more that I needed to be here.

I was so totally stuck doing this.

“Okay, time to take a break from Percy Jackson,” he announced as he slipped off his seatbelt. “Let’s go, kiddo.”

Regrettably, I set the book on the seat beside me and mournfully touched the glossy cover in farewell. I had waited months for this volume to be released so I could learn all about Rick Riordan’s take on the Greek gods. But by the time it had hit the stores, my world had already turned upside down.

My parents had gotten it for me, anyway, thinking it would help cheer me up. But I’d had it a full month now, and I still hadn’t gotten past the introduction. My brain felt too numb to focus on words… Something I would most definitely not be sharing with anyone, or they’d probably have me freaking committed.

But carrying around the book had been comforting, like it was a memory of life before everything had changed. If I just kept it with me, things might still have a chance of going back to normal.

It didn’t stop Dad from opening my door, though. My fate was sealed, and nothing would ever be normal again.

I sent him a rebellious glance, wondering if he’d climb back here and drag me from the seat and all the way inside kicking and screaming if I just absolutely refused to move.

With Dad, the answer was too hard to gauge, so I groaned out a disgusted breath and climbed from the car.

I tried to trudge petulantly behind him and hide from my fate as best I could, but Dad forced me up to his side and guided me with a firm hand on the back of my neck.

At the street, we paused to wait for a car to pass, and when we stepped off the curb to walk across, I focused on the bright white stripes of the pedestrian crossing on the asphalt, too afraid to look up at where we were heading.

Only brave people faced hell straight-on.

But then my father said, “Hey, look. That boy appears to be your age. Maybe you’ll make a friend.”

I lifted my face against my better judgment, only to discover that the pleasantly sterile glass gates of hell loomed even closer than ever, welcoming me with green and white balloons and a sign that said Grand Opening.

My stomach clenched into immediate knots. This was really happening. I was being forced into grief counseling.

My breathing started to escalate. My skin went itchy and hot, then extremely cold. And my vision clicked off before popping back on again.

But Dad hadn’t lied about the other boy, at least. With bright, blond hair, he was about the same height as me but way less hefty.

Head bowed in misery, he held the hand of the woman walking with him. When he glanced up briefly and met my gaze, he looked as if he might burst into tears at any moment.

For some reason, that made me feel better. Neither of us wanted to be here. Neither of us was okay.

I exhaled deeply and began to calm down again, glad I wasn’t the only one. Except I couldn’t let my dad know he’d been right—that seeing the other kid had helped—so I muttered a quiet and sarcastic, “Whoopee,” for his benefit.

“Damien,” he said with a tired sigh. “You promised. You said you’d try it.”

“I am,” I bit out.

I was here, wasn’t I? I was voluntarily walking toward the front door with my own two feet, not wailing or resisting at all. What more did he want from me? Cartwheels?

At the entrance, he opened the door and then waited for me to enter first. I sent him a dark glance as I stepped inside, only to plow to a petrified stop.

Because holy… Nope. Just...no.

The enormous reception area was crammed with parents and kids forming half-organized lines that led up to five different foldout tables where people were checking them into the main event. It was loud and chaotic and scary as shit.

I didn’t do crowds and people and busy spaces. This was not my happy place. I wanted to go home, where I could sneak into my sister’s room and listen to the Macklemore CD sitting on her dresser.

That “Thrift Shop” song was my favorite.

So I tried to backpedal my way out the exit, but Dad ushered me forward toward the far right side of the lobby, where he murmured a refreshed, “Ah… This line seems to be moving along nicely, don’t you think?”

What? I couldn’t focus on words right now. Panic was creeping up my throat, gripping its claws into my windpipe and making the edges of my vision dim.

I glanced around desperately for the blond boy, needing something—anything—to quell my fear, but he and his mom, or whoever she was, were halfway through another line already.

As Dad paused us at the back of our line, I heard a girl in the front shriek at her own parents, “You never said you were going to leave me here!”

Wait. Leave her?

My face drained of all warmth and it seemed to plop heavily into the pit of my stomach where it burned fiercely.

But the parents were leaving us here to do this by ourselves? This was news to me, too.

I glanced up at my father, feeling betrayed and already shaking my head no. I was barely holding it together with him by my side. No way was I doing this alone.

Reading my expression, he set a hand on my back. “It’s going to be okay,” he assured in a steady, soothing voice. “I’ll be back again to pick you up in just three hours.”

Three hours?

Hell no. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. This was stupid.

I mean, I was fine. I could handle waking up in a cold sweat and screaming every other night. And who cared if my appetite had plummeted? I could stand to lose a few pounds, anyway.

What I didn’t need was to be here.

I was fine!

But we’d already reached the front of the line, and Dad had started filling out forms and answering questions from the two women seated on the other side of the table.

From there, time morphed into overdrive, and doom approached at hyper-speed, sucking me into a void of terrorizing fear as I stood there frozen and helpless to stop the inevitable.

This was happening.

And I couldn’t breathe.

Books in This Universe

Vacancy My Enemy's Boyfriend

Other Versions

Vacancy Hardback
Large Print Hardback