Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead is here and for Ben Cameron, this holiday is painful without his best friend, Manuel “Manny” Cervantes. For Shari Livingston, this is a day to remember just how much Manny has done for all of their friends, but she never expects Manny to appear at the Dumb Supper she and the others have put together or to make to demand that she and Ben admit their true feelings for one another.
However, Manny the ghost isn’t about to let them get away with just sleeping together to make him happy. He knows more about them than they want to admit even to themselves.
Can this matchmaking ghost get Ben and Shari together or will he be forced to play the ultimate match game to show the love between them both?
October 31, Samhain
Shari Livingston held the phone against her shoulder as she maneuvered filled containers of vegetables and fruits toward the beige marble counter in her kitchen. “Marie, did you hear from Ben? He didn’t tell me if he was coming to the Dumb Supper tonight for Manuel and the others.” With her psychic talents, Shari reached out and sensed that one of the bottles of spices had fallen between the wall and the stove. Squatting low, she pushed one hand into the small space while shielding her hand from any nasty spiders that might be there as she retrieved the cinnamon.
“I saw him briefly yesterday and he said he was bringing his special salad and a bottle of Chianti.”
“Good. Thanks, Marie. Usually Ben and I manage to talk at least a couple of times a week, but since Manuel’s sudden death …” Shari let the words fall away as she opened up the container of Mexican chocolate that she’d been hoarding since Manuel last went to Mexico City to get more. Sadness tugged at her as she remembered her friend’s vivid smile when he presented her with the five-pound block. “Gods, I miss him, Marie.”
“I know. I think we all do, in ways none of us had ever considered. I was picking some fresh flowers this morning, and suddenly I realized that my favorite vase was from him. It’s going to be hard for a while until we accept that he’s gone. Ben must be having the roughest time, though — he and Manuel were best friends since high school.”
“Yeah, and finding Manuel didn’t help matters.” Shari brushed back a lock of hair that fell from her loose ponytail. “Hopefully having our annual Dumb Supper tonight for dia de los muertos will help the healing process for us all since we didn’t have a reception after Manny’s funeral. When will you get here?”
“I should be there at four. Thanks for having the supper at your home tonight. I know that you don’t like opening up that formal dining area too often, but it’s the only place to hold the six of us comfortably.”
“Seven,” Shari corrected as she shaved the chocolate into tight curls. “Maybe Manny will come sit at his spot at the table tonight.”
“You’d be the only one to see him if that happened.” Her friend’s voice turned to a teasing manner. “Considering that the rest of us just barely have any kind of psychic talent, you’re the only one who has a shot at reaching him. Have you considered –”
“No. It’s not a consideration. I won’t do a séance or a trance. Manuel wouldn’t want me to put anyone or myself at risk with that. But maybe with this day being so important to him personally and it being October, the ancient time of celebrating the dead, he might come to see us on his own.”
“I’m sorry about asking that, Shari. It’s just hard not having the only man who mothered me better than my mother around anymore.”
Shari sighed, pausing in her work. “Yeah, I know. Who the hell knew that we’d end up with the ultimate mother figure in our lives and it’d be Manuel?”
Both laughed and made their goodbyes. Shari hung up the phone, then turned back to the ingredients for the final dish of the night — the special cake used to toast and thank those who had died in the past year. The cake that Manuel, the best damn caterer in Silver Springs, Florida, had taught her only months before. “Remember that you must whisk the chocolate into a frothy mixture once you get the milk to the right temperature. Think of it as taunting and teasing the man who rocks your boat, chica. Only when he’s at that edge can you get what you want, too. Same thing here with the chocolate.”
Shari took the shavings and put them into the double boiler, turning the heat on medium. Manuel’s death had left a void in the small group of friends that had known each other for the past five years. Ben had been devastated to find his best friend dead in the catering kitchen where everyone hung out at on weekends. She had arrived soon after she heard the news; the look of pain on Ben’s face was one she’d never forget. It had taken all of her willpower to not give in to the temptation to bring him home with her and help ease the sorrow with physical love that echoed the love she felt for him. In the end, she hadn’t done it, and had regretted her decision ever since. She had loved Ben for a long time, but their friendship was too important to mess up by having sex and a relationship that might sour once the rules changed from friends to lovers. But the haunted expression on Ben’s face lingered in her mind, tugging at her heartstrings. Tonight she’d offer to sit and talk to him privately, perhaps helping to ease the pain with words and friendship.