<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> "I'm being haunted, Emma." The words were blurted, cut and harsh, by Joanna Reid, the woman sitting across from Emma Whitecastle. Then, remembering where she was, Joanna discreetly cut her eyes at the neighboring tables to see if anyone had overheard her. Satisfied no one was paying them any mind, she leaned forward, narrowed her eyes, and whispered, "Do something." <p> It was an order, not a request, made without preamble. <p> They were having lunch at the Ivy on Robertson Boulevard, seated on the crowded patio under sun umbrellas clustered together like giant mushrooms. The Ivy was a Los Angeles bistro popular with celebrities. Two tables over, eyes shielded behind large designer sunglasses, one of the Olsen twins was seated with two other young women. Several tables in the opposite direction sat the always elegant Sidney Poitier. Conan O'Brien had been leaving the restaurant as Emma arrived. The patio was separated from the sidewalk by a white picket fence. On the far side of the busy street, standing in front of a clothing store, were a couple of determined paparazzi waiting to snap off photos of stars lunching. After catching O'Brien's departure, one had grabbed a shot of her. The other photographer had ignored her completely, which was fine by Emma. <p> She'd been surprised when a call came from Joanna's secretary asking if she'd be available to meet. She hadn't heard from Joanna in almost five years, not since shortly after Joanna's husband, Max Naiman, had been killed in a car accident. Emma didn't even recognize the name at first, not until the secretary amended her message to say Joanna Naiman Reid was extending the invitation. Then Emma remembered that Joanna had remarried a few years back. <p> Max Naiman had been a very popular action film star, best known for his franchise of spy thrillers. Before Max's death, Emma and her then-husband, Grant Whitecastle, had seen the Naimans socially on occasion, bonded not just by show business but by the friendship of their daughters, Kelly and Elaine, better known as Lainey. The girls had attended the same private schools for years. After Max's accident, Joanna shipped Lainey off to a European boarding school and threw herself into her work. She was now an executive at a major studio. Emma had tried to keep contact with Joanna after Max's death, but Joanna had never responded to the attempts. Now, out of the blue, Joanna had asked to meet with her. <p> Emma put down her fork and stared at her lunch companion. "What do you expect me to do, Joanna?" <p> Joanna flicked her left hand back and forth, the thick gold watch on her wrist and large diamond on her ring finger sparkling in the sunlight that peeked between the umbrellas. She was a woman used to giving orders and having them followed without question. "Whatever it is you people do with such things." <p> <i>"You people?"</i> <p> "You know what I mean, you people who talk to ghosts." Joanna was still whispering, but her tone was imperious. <p> Emma picked up her water glass and leaned back in her chair to take stock of the situation. She'd thought the meeting might have to do with <i>The Whitecastle Report</i>, her popular cable TV show about the paranormal. Emma had been courted recently by a few studios for other projects and had wondered if Joanna was going to throw her studio's hat into the ring. It seemed the lunch invitation was about Emma's paranormal talents, just not in the way she had imagined. <p> Ignoring Joanna's bossy tone, Emma took a drink of her sparkling water, holding the fizzy bubbles in her mouth a few seconds before swallowing. "Why do you think your home is haunted, Joanna?" <p> "Not my house," Joanna hissed with annoyed urgency. "Me." <p> Joanna Reid had the type of Southern California good looks that came with having the right doctors and the money to pay them, while Emma had the kind of beauty that came from genetics and letting nature take its course. They were about the same age—in the second half of their forties—and had one daughter each. Both were tall, slender, fit, and blond. With a hand, Joanna flicked her ash-blond hair over her left shoulder. When Emma had last seen her, Joanna's hair had been dark brown and short. She'd also had a different nose. <p> But her hair and a nose job weren't the only things Emma noticed about Joanna. While her eye makeup was artfully applied, Joanna hadn't been able to entirely mask the dark circles or the sunken appearance to her cheeks. The woman was either ill or seriously worried about something. <p> "What's more," Joanna continued, again looking around to make sure no one was listening, "it's Max." <p> "Max?" Emma put down her water glass and studied Joanna with interest. The ghost of a dead husband could explain Joanna's appearance. "Can you see him? Or hear him?" <p> "Of course not. That's your job, isn't it?" <p> <i>"You people. Your job."</i> Feeling feisty in the face of Joanna's rudeness, Emma threw the words back at her. "I'm not on your staff, Joanna. Please remember that." <p> Emma started to say something more but stopped when their waiter approached to check on things. After leaving their table, he hovered at the one next to them. She used the time to simmer down and focus on the air around them, trying to determine if there were, in fact, any ghosts in the vicinity. She saw and felt none. <p> As soon as the waiter left their area, Emma asked Joanna in a low voice, "Then how do you know it's a ghost, Max or otherwise?" <p> "I just know," she snapped. "It's a feeling. A cold, creepy feeling." Joanna got quiet and looked out past the fence toward the street. The paparazzi were busy snapping photos of the solo Olsen twin as she waited for the valet to fetch her car. "Yet a sense of familiarity, too." She turned back to Emma. "Does that make sense?" <p> "To me it does." Emma tested the waters to see if Joanna really could sense spirits or was just making it up. "Is Max here right now?" <p> "No." <p> Joanna started to take a bite of her half-eaten salad, then stopped and motioned for the waiter to come and take it away. Emma also indicated she was finished. Another waiter came by to refresh Joanna's iced tea. <p> When they were reasonably alone again, Joanna said in a sharp, low tone, "Familiar or not, make him go away. Now." It was another order. <p> "It's not that simple, Joanna. I can't just say <i>abracadabra</i> and he'll leave. I need to know more about why he's here." <p> Joanna gave her a disgusted look, the kind of look that said <i>then what good are you</i>? <p> Emma hadn't particularly liked Joanna before Max's death either. Max had been the one with the easygoing and fun personality. She'd even suspected Grant and Joanna of having a short fling years ago. The woman could be snide and harsh with others, especially with her own family. Lainey had spent a lot of time at the Whitecastle home, and Emma suspected it had been partially to escape her tyrannical mother. <p> In spite of Joanna's rudeness, Emma was intrigued by the idea that Max Naiman might have returned from the other side. "Has this been going on ever since Max's death?" <p> "No, that's what's so odd." Joanna took a long drink of her iced tea, then touched a napkin to the corners of her mouth. "It started a couple of months ago. Out of the blue." <p> "Hardly out of the blue, my dear." The comment came out of nowhere, taking Emma by surprise. She hadn't seen or felt the spirit when she'd looked around a moment before, but there was definitely one nearby now. It didn't materialize; it didn't have to. Emma had recognized the deep and sexy Australian accent immediately. It was the voice of Max Naiman. <p> Emma tried hard not to let surprise reflect on her face as she gazed across the small table at Joanna. She need not have bothered; Joanna wasn't paying attention to her. Keeping her head as straight as if she were in a neck brace, Joanna's dark eyes, wide with an odd mixture of dread and annoyance, were darting around like newly released pinballs. Even in the warmth of the day, her bare arms were speckled with goose bumps and crossed in front of her as if warding off bitter cold. Emma had no doubt now about Joanna's ability to sense the presence of Max's spirit. <p> "He's here now," she said to Emma, still not allowing her eyes to focus on one spot. <p> "I know." Emma kept her voice low and soft. "He just arrived." <p> Finally Joanna's eyes settled back on Emma. "So it's true. You can see ghosts." <p> "When they want to be seen, yes. I can't see Max, but he just spoke. I recognized his voice." <p> "Don't let her kid you, Emma," the disembodied voice said. "Joanna knows why I'm here." <p> "I'll pay you anything you want," Joanna told Emma with cold intensity, "to make him leave permanently." <p> For a split second Emma thought she saw the shimmering outline of a spirit behind Joanna's chair. Then it was gone, dissipating in the warm air like a puff of steam, but not before offering up parting words: "Fix this." <p> "Wait," Emma called to it, forgetting she was in a public place. People near them glanced her way before going back to their business. <p> The waiter came over. "Is there something I can get for you, Mrs. Whitecastle?" <p> "No," Emma answered, trying to appear casual about her outburst. "But thank you." Used to catering to the rich and famous and their eccentricities, he retreated with a slight shrug. <p> Joanna uncrossed her arms and took a deep breath, the gesture letting Emma know she also knew the ghost was gone. <p> "What did he say, Emma?" <p> "He said he didn't come to you out of the blue—and that you know why he's here." <p> "And?" Joanna pressed, her eyes boring into Emma like drills searching for oil. <p> "That's it, I'm afraid." Emma picked up her glass and took a sip of water, trying to decide if the words <i>fix this</i> were meant for her or for Joanna. <p> "That's it?" Joanna sounded angry. Emma wasn't sure if the emotion was directed at her or at Max, or at her by proxy. <p> It was Emma's turn to lean forward. "What happened in the past several months to trigger his presence?" <p> Joanna dismissed the question and waved to the waiter for their check. "Nothing." <p> Emma knew she was lying. "Something brought him back. He could have been around all this time, but something brought him to the point of letting you know he was here. It's been my experience that spirits don't do that lightly. They don't go out of their way to let the living know they are around—especially those who cannot see or hear them—unless they have a purpose." <p> When the check was delivered, Joanna immediately slapped down a black American Express card. The waiter whisked it away. <p> "Isn't that why you asked me to lunch—to find out why he's here?" <p> "I invited you to lunch to ask you to get rid of him—to hire you as some sort of ghost exorcist. I don't care one bit why he's here." <p> The waiter returned with the credit card slip. Joanna scribbled her name on it. Without looking at Emma, she folded her copy of the receipt and slipped it into her blue crocodile Hermès Birkin, a handbag that cost more than the average family of four lived on in a year. <p> Emma persisted. "Max must have a reason for reaching out to you. Knowing that will help me communicate with him. Even then, he may not want to talk to me, and he may not leave until whatever brought him here is finished." <p> A sad smile sneaked across Joanna's face. "Max always had good reasons for doing everything he did ... even driving his car over the edge of that cliff." <p> The words stunned Emma. Max Naiman had been killed when his car spun out of control on a hairpin turn on Highway 1 just south of Big Sur. The news had reported he'd been drunk at the time. There had never been any indication the accident was deliberate on Max's part. <p> "Would you like to talk about it? Maybe someplace private?" Emma filled her voice with genuine concern in spite of her personal feelings about Joanna. Unwanted ghosts usually left people feeling helpless and anxious. If she could help Max, she could help Joanna. "I'm going out of town this afternoon, but maybe next week I can drop by your home." <p> Joanna cackled. "Right. Bring a famous ghost whisperer into the house and have Lin wonder what more could be going on? Not on your life." <p> Lin, Emma knew, was Linwood Reid, Joanna's present husband. Emma wasn't exactly sure what he did for a living, only that he was considered a big shot in finance. <p> "What do you mean by <i>more</i>?" <p> Joanna looked away. <p> "If something serious is going on in your life, it could be why Max is here. He may be trying to tell you something or even trying to warn you." <p> Joanna turned and glued her eyes to Emma's face. In spite of her drawn, tired appearance, Joanna's face was steely and determined. "Or trying to hurt us. Maybe he can't stand the thought that his family is finally happy." <p> "Look," Emma told her. "I have a small private office at my home in Pasadena. You're welcome there anytime." She paused before tossing out the next suggestion, pretty sure it would be shot down, but she had to try. "But the best solution would be for you and me to meet with my friend Milo Ravenscroft. He lives on the Westside, close to Santa Monica. He's out of town right now, but when he returns, I'm sure he'll be happy to help you." <p> "Milo Ravenscroft." Joanna said the name with a near snort, a cousin to her earlier cackle. "The famous reclusive psychic? That's rich." <p> "Milo isn't reclusive; he's shy. And he knows more about the paranormal than almost anyone else alive." <p> Joanna stood up and slipped on a pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses. The meeting was over. Emma was dismissed. <p> Emma picked up her purse—also a designer bag, but only about 1 percent the cost of Joanna's—and got to her feet. While they were waiting for the valet to bring their cars around, Emma pulled out a business card and pen and scribbled something on the back of the card. She handed it to Joanna. "This is my office number, the one your secretary has. On the back is my cell phone. I'm here for you, Joanna. Just call if you want to talk." <p> Although she took the card, Joanna avoided looking at Emma and remained silent. Joanna's silver Jaguar was the first to arrive. She went to the driver's side and tipped the valet. <p> Emma called to her, "Max said to 'fix it,' Joanna. What did he mean by that?" <p> Joanna Reid stopped in her tracks. She didn't turn to look at Emma but hung suspended, half in and half out of her vehicle, for several seconds before disappearing into the driver's seat. With a squeal of rubber, she pulled away from the curb. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Gem of a Ghost</b> by <b>Sue Ann Jaffarian</b> Copyright © 2012 by Sue Ann Jaffarian. Excerpted by permission of Llewellyn. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.