maureen hardegree

teen and tweens books


Say It Haint So

Say It Haint So
Book 3 in the Ghost Handler series
Bell Bridge, October 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61194-209-5

Available at:
Bell Bridge (paperback)
Amazon Kindle (paperback)
Google Play


First it was Jack, the hot teenage ghost. Now it's Zac, an all-too-alive bad boy.

Not to mention trouble with Drew, Audrey, and the usual BFF dramas. The last thing Heather needs is a new haint on the scene, especially not the ghost of her cantankerous grandfather.

Four weeks were all that was left of summer vacation, if you counted Thursday registration the first week of August, and I did.

I had made progress on the summer goal front.

1) My older sister Audrey tolerated my existence more than at the beginning of summer, as long as her friends weren't around and my geeky friend Xavier kept his distance.

2) Drew and I chatted. So at least I was on his radar. But he had a clingy girlfriend I wanted to unwrap from his frame.

Then trouble arrived in a muscle car-our neighbor's bad boy grandson Zac. Audrey called dibs on him, which was fine with me. Drew made no bones about disliking him, also fine with me. But for some reason I may never understand, Zac liked freaky me. So you know what that meant-my progress with my sister and the lifeguard of my dreams reached yet another stumbling block. My problems multiplied exponentially at the arrival of another visitor and his sweet pipe tobacco scent-my ghostly grandfather.

Just what I needed-a crabby octogenarian haint to complicate everything.


excerpt haint misbehavin'

Chapter One

How could I explain that what I felt for Drew Blanton didn’t have a half-life?

I couldn’t. Not when it was so obvious that my good friend and geek to the millionth power, Xavier, wanted more than friendship from me.

"You aren’t still hung up on Drew, are you?” he repeated, leaning forward on the couch where he was sitting across from me. He brushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes so he could examine my face.

Just hearing Drew’s name heated my ears. My face and chest burned as blood rushed at the mere thought of the dreamiest lifeguard and soon-to-be junior who ever existed. It always would—no matter how hard Xavier wished otherwise. Even Jack, the ghost I fell for on vacation, hadn’t eroded my interest in Drew for long.

"I was hoping we could hang out without talking about all this,” I said. I meant it, too. Xavier was a true friend. I shared the whole ghost-handling thing with him, and he’d kept my secret. He was the only person other than Aunt Gen who knew about my ability. Well, the two of them and of course the ghosts I’d encountered.

"Do you want some... popcorn?” I asked, and torqued my back to see if the itching would stop. The burnt smell of the earlier attempt Claire made in the microwave hung in the air despite me lighting a couple of those vanilla-scented candles.

"No thanks.”

Okay, now I had to scratch. This was beyond the everyday itchiness that I’d learned to live with as anyone with hypersensitive skin would. I dug at the skin where my bra hooked in the back, then felt around to figure out what was different about this particular closure. I rarely wore it because it irritated more than the rest, but every time I examined the hook and eyes and stretchy fabric I found nothing out of the ordinary.

Xavier cocked his head and met my gaze with a shrewd one of his own. "Sorry, Heather. You’re out of luck. Every time I try to talk to you about certain subjects, you divert me. It’s not going to work this time.”

"I’m not—” I objected, then at long last my fingertip grazed the offender, which felt like a small sprig of plastic used to attach price tags.

"I should be getting major credit for the fact that I’m a guy, and I’m being open with you about my feelings,” Xavier said. "That’s what girls claim they want, but I’m beginning to believe that’s not the case.”

"Hold that thought.” I pinched the miniscule bit and ran through the foyer and dining room into the kitchen to look for scissors. I wanted to avoid the den where my older sister Audrey and her friends were congregating.

"No,” he said, following me. "I demand that you listen.”

"You don’t understand,” I said, pulling open drawers, checking the cup of pens on the desk. Even the special kitchen scissors, which we were under strict orders from Mom not to move, weren’t in the knife drawer.


"I have to cut this piece of plastic ASAP. Then I’ll give you my full attention.” I rummaged through every desk drawer, then risked poking the beast—my older sister.

"Who moved all the scissors?” I yelled in the general direction of the den.

Risking ridicule of giganto proportions, I even braved the room filled with her friends. "Do you happen to know where some scissors are, Audrey?”

"Oh, you’re talking to me?” she said with a hint of disdain, enough to appease Karen, the head honcho of Heather-hate.

Her reason? Probably because she thinks I possess the ability to move objects with my brain. Is that telekinesis?

Anyway, the person moving the objects was my first ghost, Amy. But Karen thought I was the responsible party for what I like to call the lip-gloss incident and the soda-fountain meltdown. Yeah, Amy took control of the wand and smeared pink frost all over Karen’s face when we were in the bathroom at the movies in retaliation for her bugging me. Then a couple weeks later she made the soda-fountain station at Sub-a-Dub go berserk for reasons too complicated to go into now.

The gaggle glared at me.

Everyone, that is, except Audrey. But her beady little brown eyes sent a clear message for me to leave. "I have no idea where they are. Vamoose.” She shooed me like I was a fly.

I walked back into the kitchen where Xavier had wisely waited for me. If they hated me, they despised him more.

"I can cut it with my pocket knife,” he offered.

I gave him my tried and true "you must be crazy” look. Like I was going to lift up my shirt for him.

"Geez, Heather. I’m not going to get off on seeing the back of your bra.”

I hiked my eyebrow.

Xavier smiled, revealing his most-of-the-time hidden dimple. "Okay. Maybe I’ll enjoy it a little. But I can solve your problem right now.” He mimicked scales with his hands. "Cut the plastic now... find scissors eventually. Your choice.”

This boy knew me too well, and he was using that knowledge to his advantage. I turned around and lifted the back of my T-shirt with my free hand.

"Purple. Nice.”

"Xavier,” I warned, as my cheeks burned in embarrassment. I was so glad I didn’t wear the monkey bra from the tween section that I unfortunately could still fit into.

"Okay, okay.” His fingers brushed mine away from the offending bit of plastic. "I’ve got to hold it to cut.”

"What are you doing in there?” Audrey called out from the den.

"Nothing that concerns you,” I said in as light-hearted a tone as I could manage.

"Don’t move.”

I didn’t. I prayed they didn’t come in and see me like this and that the knife didn’t slip and stab me. That would be interesting to explain to my parents.

"Hurry up,” I urged.

"You afraid your sister’s going to think we’re doing something perverted?” he asked.

"Let’s just agree that even though you and I know your hands up the back of my shirt are for medicinal purposes only, not many other people would understand.”

"Agreed,” he said. "Got it.”

Relieved, I faced him. "Thank you, so much.” We both looked at the tiny tag holder. "Hard to believe something so benign could cause so much pain.”

"Would you like me to check the skin underneath?” he asked with a smirk.


"Hey, a guy has to try.”

"No. Not really.” Although if Drew had helped me...

"Would you let Drew check you for a rash?” Xavier asked before I could even get my Drew dream started.

That’s what I loved and at times hated about Xavier. He knew exactly what I was thinking most of the time.

"You know I have a ceasefire in place,” I said, making a point of lowering my voice and hoping he’d keep his deep tones close to a whisper. "I don’t want to mess that up. For the first time in a long time, Audrey’s being civil to me.”

"Except for the day you and Claire went to the mall, and you got spritzed by that ghost.”

"A minor skirmish.” Sure, Audrey had been miffed that Claire and I weren’t at the mall exit on time after the perfume spritzer ghost squirted me into an allergic equivalent of a core meltdown. But since then, all had been quiet on the sister front.

"Right,” he agreed as we headed through the dining room to the living room. "Let’s get back to the topic you’re trying so hard to avoid.”

I couldn’t help but focus on his wispy mustache that I really hoped he’d shave off before school started in a month.

As we crossed the foyer into the living room, I wondered if maybe I should try to work shaving off the pseudo-stache into some sort of getting ready to start high school kind of thing. I could suggest we both do makeovers. Would that work on a boy?

"Heather!” He snapped his fingers in my face. "You didn’t hear a word I said.”

"Sorry,” I apologized and sat down next to him on the couch.

"Look at me and pay attention.”

I did, completely avoiding the mustache that sent me on a tangent.

"What I was saying was that I don’t get it. I’m the one who researched for you when you had no access to a computer on vacation. I’m the guy who helped you with both of your ghost friends. I’m the guy you told your secret to. Obviously, you trust me. Just as obviously, you don’t trust Drew.”

"I don’t know Drew well enough to tell him yet.”

Xavier raised his hands in frustration. "Exactly.”

"And this is the whole reason you came by today?” I asked, figuring there had to be more of a point to this conversation. Usually, Xavier isn’t the kind of guy who just happens to drop by for a chat.

My phone started buzzing. I reached my hand into my pocket.

"Don’t you dare.” Xavier meant it, too. There was nothing that aggravated him more than people in the same room texting people who weren’t there and not paying attention to the people they were supposed to be with. My parents felt that way, too.

I left my phone in my pocket. "Happy?”

"Ecstatic.” He wiped his hands on his long cargo shorts. "You know how I was on the wait list for that space camp in Alabama? Well, I got in.”

"Oh, my God, Xavier. That’s fantastic.” And then it hit me, he’d be gone. He’d be busy. I might actually miss him. "So... you’re gonna be gone for how long?”

"Three weeks. I’ll get back in time to get ready for school, if my mom even notices.”

I hurt for Xavier. His mom was still in mourning for his brother Stevie, who’d died last year. Stevie didn’t seem to want my help. I’d sensed him hanging around their house when I had ghost Amy to deal with, but he’d never appeared to me. Xavier knew that, and I suspected knowing his brother was stuck in their front yard made his leaving harder. He probably felt a little guilty for wanting to move forward with his life when his brother was in limbo.

That’s the way it went with ghosts. Some want to be dealt with, some don’t. I hadn’t run across any since the ghost at the mall who spritzed me with perfume. Luckily, moving her to the great beyond was a pretty fast dispatch, if I do say so myself.

Even though Xavier knew I could help haints, he never once asked me to help Stevie. I think, though, that he was asking now for some reassurance. "Your mom will notice you’re gone. Don’t say things like that.”

Probably thinking he was much wiser to the ways of the world than I was, Xavier shook his head slowly.

I wasn’t being naïve. I was being polite and hopeful. Something could happen to make his mother notice her living son needed her.

"That has as much chance of going down as you telling me what happened between you and your ghostly boyfriend.”

Yet another sore subject between us. "When are you leaving?”

"When are you going to tell me about Jack?”

"I don’t want to discuss it.”

"Yeah, I got that,” he said, his deep voice rising once more in irritation.

"Don’t get all huffy with me. You came over, without even texting. I haven’t had a shower.”

"What does that have to do with anything?” he asked.

"I’m probably stinky, which puts me in a bad mood. And I didn’t get up early like I wanted to, and...” I sighed. I was on my period and feeling kind of crampy, but that information wasn’t something I was sharing with Xavier. "Let’s just say the whole day is pretty much wasted.”

Audrey poked her head in the living room where Xavier and I were fussing. Karen and her minions of evil had been here when I woke up and had been eating all the junk food Mom bought. Goodbye cheesy munchies. As usual, they were gossiping about their friends who weren’t with them, but they must have gotten bored because my sister’s entourage followed her in her quest for new targets.

"What are you two arguing about?” Audrey asked.

"We’re not arguing,” Xavier and I said at the same time, with the same inflection, then sighed heavily as punctuation.

I needed a heating pad and a mega dose of ibuprofen.

That’s when my younger sister Claire ran into the room, gangly arms akimbo. "Did you hear it? He’s here.”

"Who?” Karen snarled.

"Our neighbor’s cute grandson,” Claire said, then squealed. "I heard the muffler on his car.”

Karen’s face squinched up like she’d shoved a pile of sour gummies in her mouth.

Audrey’s heavily lined eyes widened, her cheeks pinkened. "Zac. Oh my God. Karen, this is the guy I’ve been telling you about. Zac is sohot. He drives an old car and wears worn jeans that hug his—” she darted her eyes toward Xavier, who rolled his in response.

"Anyway,” she continued without waxing on about Zac’s butt. "You’ve got to see him, and we have to come up with an excuse to be outside.” Audrey grabbed Claire’s arm. "Has he taken his luggage out of his car? Maybe we could walk by casually and offer to help him.”

Xavier locked gazes with me. "So it is genetic.”

"Har-de-har,” I said, then turned to Audrey and friends confabbing over how best to make Zac notice them. I had no clue why Xavier of all people was taking offense—king of stalkers as he was.

"Here’s an idea, why don’t you just go over and say hi?” I suggested.

Audrey looked at me like I’d sprouted the Mount Vesuvius of pimples. "You know nothing about boys.”

Maybe not, but at least I was sane, unlike her. Except when it came to Drew.

Gabby, Audrey’s friend whose eyes got super wide and blinked rapidly when she was excited about something, stationed herself at the sidelight by the front door where she could monitor any movements. She screamed, "He’s outside! He’s outside! He’s wearing a tight black tee and Ray-Bans.”

I preferred Drew and aviators. These girls were looney. And they had no taste whatsoever.

The pack flew to the dining-room windows, where they could all gaze upon his gloriousness.

Audrey shouted, "He looks like he has scruff. Oh, my God. He is so sexy.”

Xavier’s posture caved like a person whose belly was protesting too many burritos. I didn’t blame him. They were acting totally crazy, crazier than I would in front of a boy, anyway. He rubbed his face where his beard hadn’t completely come in yet.

"Look at the way his jeans mold to his ass—ets!” Karen shouted.

"I feel violated,” Xavier grumbled. "Your sister and her friends are worse than construction workers. And I’m a guy. You’d think they wouldn’t... They don’t think of me as a guy, do they?”

I offered my hand to Xavier. "Come on. I’ll walk you home.”

"So you can accidentally run into this Zac person? No thanks.”

I unlocked the key bolt on the front door. "Don’t be silly. Bad boys are more Audrey’s thing. Zac’s not my type.”

"So now you have a type?” he asked as he followed, deaf to Audrey’s protest that our presence outside would ruin any chance she had in attracting Zac, which didn’t deter me in the least. I’d be doing her a favor. Plus, I needed some fresh, if hot and humid, air.

Did I have a type?Both Drew and Jack were into water sports, so maybe I did.

"Seriously, Xavier, chillax. I could care less about Zac. His hair’s almost as long as mine. And his innate ability to get in trouble surpasses mine. The whole reason he’s here is that he was sent into exile with his grandparents, who happen to be our neighbors, because he did something really bad. So bad we don’t know what it was.”

"What do you mean you don’t know?”

"My parents won’t tell us. It’s kind of frustrating.”

Xavier put on his thinking face. I guess he was imagining all the different things a person could do that would make a parent want to send them away.

The sound of cicadas rose and fell in a wave as we walked down the shaded cement sidewalk that met the portion of the driveway in full sun. The pads of my feet burned as I sort of hop-walked to the dappled spots. The asphalt in the road would be even worse. I should have grabbed some flip-flops. Xavier might be mad, though, if I didn’t walk him all the way home like I’d offered.

"Doesn’t sound like much of a punishment to me to be sent here,” Xavier pointed out.

The faint scent of grass and gasoline intensified as we walked toward the cul-de-sac.

"So whatever he did wasn’t that bad,” Xavier surmised. "Really bad would be juvenile hall.”

A dog, probably Roquefort, our stinky beagle, barked from somewhere behind us in what seemed like agreement.

"I can see how you’d think that because, no offense, you don’t have a lot of grandparent experience under your belt. Their idea of fun is playing bridge, going to book club meetings, volunteering everywhere under the sun, circling words in one of those large print word search puzzles, and spending a lot of time in church to make up for stuff they did when they were young.”

"And this is bad?”

"Not if you’re an altar boy.”

He shook his head sadly. "It’s altar server, for your information.”

I was glad he didn’t take too much offense. And that he was still my friend even though he wanted more than friendship from me. The lawn man across the street started up his big platform mower.

I raised my voice over the drone. "If you don’t think hanging with the geriatric crowd is that bad, you could tag along and bust a move with Grandma MacCormack when she goes to the senior center dance in a couple of weeks.”

"Only I won’t be here,” he reminded me.

I grabbed his arm and squeezed, sparking a look of fear in his eyes. "I can’t believe I forgot to tell you. Grandma has a date to this mystery dinner thing tomorrow night. Can you believe it?”

Xavier scratched his shaggy head. "I have the feeling you want me to say no.”

"Well, I mean, it’s not that surprising. She takes care of herself, never forgets her lipstick, and stuff. And I guess it was no picnic for her being married to my grandfather. How would you like to live with Mr. Grumpy for forty-five years? When he’d get mad at us kids, he’d shake his finger.”

I swear I’m not exaggerating. Grandpa was always in a bad mood, like Audrey. Maybe the boy craziness and ghost-handling aren’t the only traits passed down. "At least when he lit his pipe, the tobacco smelled kind of nice and sweet.”

"Is this yet another of your attempts to divert me? Because it’s getting old.”

"Xavier,” I said and groaned. I hadn’t been avoiding what he wanted to talk about. Okay, so I had. But it was because I didn’t want to hurt him. You can’t make yourself like-like someone. You do, or you don’t. That’s just the way it is.

"So which one are you hung up on? It’s a simple question to answer. Drew or Jack?”

"Why does it matter?”

"Because I need to know who or what exactly I’m in competition with.”

That was Xavier. Going after what he wanted. "No” to him meant possibly "yes” in the future. He believed he could wear down a "no” into a "yes” by persistence. And deep down I knew enough to be flattered, but that didn’t change the way I felt now.

"I don’t know,” I answered honestly. "Maybe I’m hung up on both of them.”

He stared at me incredulously. "That’s your answer?”

"You don’t have to be so snotty.”

Xavier’s eyes glittered. "Yeah, sometimes I do.”

I stopped next to the mailbox and scooted onto the comparatively cool grass that was turning a crunchy brown. "Are you sure you want to go away for three whole weeks?”

"There’s not much to keep me here.” He squinted into the sun. "Volunteering at the library, being invisible to my parents, watching you moon over Drew at the pool.”

"I do not moon.”

Xavier snorted in protest.

"Okay, so maybe I moon a little.”

He reached out and rubbed the pad of his thumb against my jaw. "And maybe it bothers me a little too much. Do I get a hug goodbye?”

I felt a punch to the gut. "When are you leaving?”

"Early Sunday morning.”

Today was Thursday. "Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

"I did tell you. You weren’t listening. I was on the wait list. Someone else cancelled at the last minute. It’s almost like you think you’re gonna miss me.”

"But you’re not leaving until Sunday.”

"Yeah, but I’m working tomorrow and Saturday. I have to pack and buy stuff.”

"Maybe I could go with you.”

"Tomorrow is your family game night, and we all know that’s sacred. That’s really the only time I have to run errands.”

"So this is goodbye,” I said, surprised at the sense of loss I felt.

"It’s not like you can’t text or message me.”

That wasn’t the same. "I guess.”

He opened his arms for a hug, and I complied. I was going for a short, barely touching air hug, but he pulled me completely against him. My chin hit his shoulder. He’d grown taller.

"You’re going to miss me,” he whispered against my ear, tickling it. He breathed in deeply, and I kind of wished that I’d bothered to get out of bed at what my parents called a reasonable hour and had taken a shower before he came over.

"Have a good time,” I said, not whispering at all and patting his back to indicate I wanted the hug to end.

"I will.” He released me and peered off at something over at our neighbor’s house. Probably my sister making her move. He frowned. "What’s he doing?”

I turned around to find Ray-Ban, tight black T-shirt, and a scruff-sporting Zac sauntering toward me and Xavier. A multitude of faces pressed against the front windows at my house.

Yeah, this day just got better and better.


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