Text or Treat hits shelves on October 5th, 2022. Get a sneak peek of the first chapter below.
Sydney Farina is done texting dead people.
She’s got a new, non-haunted phone, and the only ghosts she wants to deal with are Halloween decorations. But when a dead body is discovered near the bakery where she works, her Halloween gets a little too ghastly.
Sydney doesn’t even know the dead guy, but that doesn’t stop his ghost from texting her for help. (So much for her brand-new phone.) He sent her a scam message months ago, and she wasn’t his only target. He stole money from dozens of people—including Sydney’s sister, who’s become the prime suspect for his murder.
As Sydney digs into the scammer’s life, she finds a multitude of people who wanted him dead. She has to find the real killer fast… or her sister will be trading her Halloween costume for a prison uniform.
Chapter 1: Only fake ghosts please
A plastic skull cackled when Sydney opened the door. It sat on top of the hostess station, one of many Halloween decorations that had transformed the inside of the Salty Fish. Candelabras straight out of a haunted house decorated the restaurant’s tables. Fake spiderwebs stretched between the industrial light fixtures, and glowing glass jack-o’-lanterns grinned from between liquor bottles shelved behind the bar.
“Hey, Sydney.” Ayaka, the hostess, was a pretty twentysomething whose cloth headband bore a pattern of pumpkins and bats. “Alex is in your usual booth.”
“Thanks,” Sydney said and walked toward the back.
Alex waved cheerfully from a booth in the corner, wearing a butterscotch-yellow cardigan and flower-printed skirt that matched her sunny disposition. She was tall and thin with short, dirty-blond hair, and few people pegged her and Sydney as siblings.
Sydney wasn’t as tall or as thin. She had long, blue-dyed hair and wore black from head to toe. Her disposition was less sunny and more dark and stormy night.
“Have you tried their new caramel-apple cocktail?” Alex asked as Sydney slid into the seat opposite her. “It’s amazingly good.”
Sydney ordered one when their waiter came over. Then she perused the menu.
“I think this place has even better decorations than the bakery,” Alex said, looking around.
Sydney’s head snapped up from the menu. “You take that back.”
She’d done the decorations at Summertime Sweets herself. Vines of autumn leaves ran across the display cases of baked goods, and pumpkins perched on every available surface. Cloth ghosts hung from the ceiling, and she’d tucked away fake crows and black cats in every corner, nook, and cranny. There were even scarecrows and real haystacks by the front door.
It wasn’t Sydney’s original vision, which had involved blood-spatter decals on the walls and fake body parts everywhere, but her boss had politely turned down that idea. Something about not wanting to scare small children.
Alex grinned. “Someone’s a little defensive.”
“You can’t judge when you don’t put up a single Halloween decoration in your apartment.”
“Only because I never get any trick-or-treaters.”
Sydney sighed. Her apartment complex was the same way. Her first year there, she’d bought bags of candy in preparation. On Halloween night, she’d turned on her lights, lit the jack-o’-lantern outside her door, and waited in her costume as Samara from The Ring.
Her doorbell hadn’t rung once. Ever since then, she’d spent Halloween at her favorite bar.
She was about to lecture Alex on decorating to celebrate the season if only for oneself, but a plate of dumplings was placed on their table. Sydney looked up to tell the waiter they hadn’t ordered it, but the waiter hadn’t put it there.
Logan Kobayashi, owner of the Salty Fish and Sydney’s boyfriend, stood by the table. He was tall and lean, his black hair short on the back and sides with long strands on top sweeping artfully across his forehead. His handsome face had a faint, stubbly beard, and the sleeves of his black chef coat covered the tattoos running down his arms.
“Hey.” Sydney warmed with pleasure as he leaned down and pecked her on the cheek. “What’s this?”
“New vegetable gyoza recipe,” he said. “I wanted your take on it.”
“Ah.” Sydney nodded knowingly. “So you’re not treating us to a free appetizer. You’re using us as guinea pigs.”
“Well, if you don’t want it…” Logan reached for the plate.
Alex snatched it away from him. “Shh, Sydney. It’s free food. Don’t ruin it.” She gave Logan a winning smile. “She appreciates the appetizer and will thank you in your preferred romantic and/or raunchy way later.”
“Hey,” Sydney snapped.
Alex was too busy shoveling gyoza into her mouth to reply.
Sydney rolled her eyes and looked back at Logan. “The decorations look great. All ready for tomorrow?”
Halloween wasn’t until the following weekend, but Maple Plaza had a big trick-or-treat event organized for the next day. The goal was to introduce families to the businesses in the plaza as they took their kids trick-or-treating from store to store. Since Summertime Sweets sat right next to the Salty Fish, Sydney wasn’t completely selfless in her hopes the event would be a success.
“I’ve got bags of candy for the kids and takeout menus for the parents,” Logan said. “No clue if I have too much or too little.”
It was the event’s first year, so Sydney didn’t know how many people it would attract either.
“Ditto,” she said. “I’m already planning on making a candy cake with the leftovers if nobody shows up.”
Alex finally released her death grip on the gyoza plate, so Sydney grabbed one. The dumpling was golden and crispy on the bottom, and the juicy filling burst with umami flavor when she took a bite. Shredded carrots, mushrooms, and other vegetables provided a wealth of different textures, and ginger added a bright, spicy zing.
“Mmm.” Sydney’s eyes fell closed so she could better savor the taste. “This is perfect.”
“Delicious,” Alex chimed in. “Don’t change a single thing in the recipe.”
“Glad to hear it,” Logan said, sounding pleased but not surprised.
Only two gyoza were left, so Sydney snagged one before Alex could devour them both. “You’re wearing a costume tomorrow, right?” she asked Logan.
“Ugh.” Alex seized the last gyoza and shot Logan a pitying look. “She thinks she’s the costume police, I swear. One time in high school, I had an exam the day after Halloween, and she still made me wear a cat costume while I stayed home studying.”
Logan’s mouth twitched as he tried to keep a straight face. “Is that right?”
Sydney crossed her arms. “Halloween only comes once a year. You should make the most of it.”
“Well, don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll be wearing a costume.”
Sydney raised the gyoza to her mouth. “Good, because I’d hate to dump you.”
“That’d be sad—especially since my aunt and uncle want to meet you.”
The gyoza fell from her chopsticks and hit her plate. “Um. Really?”
Logan’s aunt and uncle had raised him after his parents had died. That made this a big “meet the family” milestone. But they’d only been dating for… Dang, was it almost four months already?
“Nothing serious.” He glanced at the fallen gyoza in concern. “Just dinner sometime next week.”
Sydney swallowed against the knot that had formed in her throat. “I’ll check my schedule and give you a date.”
They chatted for a few more minutes, and then Logan went back to the kitchen. As worried as Sydney felt about meeting his family, she couldn’t help but lean to the side so she could appreciate the view as he walked away.
When she leaned back, Alex waggled her eyebrows teasingly. “You are so smitten.”
“Smitten? Seriously?” Sydney raised the menu so she could avoid her sister’s gaze.
“But it’s such a cutesy-sounding word. How about bewitched? Captivated? Enthralled?”
“You’re so dramatic.” Alex took a sip of her cocktail. “And no, you’re definitely smitten.”
“How’s Heidi?” Sydney asked pointedly.
Alex let out a dreamy sigh, her brown eyes going distant like she’d fallen into a trance. “She’s wonderful.”
“You’re the smitten one.”
“And proud of it,” Alex declared.
The waiter returned to take their orders, saving Sydney from an exasperating conversation. But then Alex changed the topic to something even worse.
“Worried about meeting his aunt and uncle?”
Sydney went perfectly still. “No.”
“Good,” Alex said, not calling her bluff. “Because you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re awesome, and they’ll love you.”
Sydney took a long sip of her drink, the sugary cocktail doing nothing to ease the queasy feeling in her stomach. “Caleb’s mom didn’t like me.”
The woman’s lip had curled whenever Sydney’s ex-boyfriend had brought her around, which thankfully hadn’t been often.
“Caleb’s mom thinks her son is a misunderstood genius,” Alex said. “She’s obviously a terrible judge of character.”
“That’s… a good point.”
But it didn’t make her feel any better. What if Logan’s aunt and uncle judged her just as harshly? Her imagination ran wild with scenarios of Logan’s family threatening to disown him if he didn’t dump his weirdo girlfriend.
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text message from inside her purse. It had been four months since Sydney last got a text from a dead person, but she still felt a jolt of fear every time her phone notified her of a new message.
The murder of her old boss at the bakery had started it all. The woman had kept on sending Sydney texts from beyond the grave, begging her to solve the crime. Then a catering customer who’d been texting Sydney for updates on her order had dropped dead of poison. Once again, the texts had kept coming with pleas to bring the killer to justice.
Sydney had uncovered the murderer both times, but it had involved a ton of stress and had almost gotten her killed several times. She didn’t want to make a habit of solving mysteries for dead people, so she’d saved up and bought a new phone. No uncanny messages had come since, but she still didn’t feel safe.
She checked the screen and saw a spam message about student loan debt. Relief outweighing annoyance, she deleted it and returned her attention to her sister.
Sydney loved Halloween and all, but she could do without actual ghosts.
I’m sure Sydney’s Halloween will be ghost-free, and nothing exciting will happen whatsoever.
Text or Treat will be releasing in ebook and paperback. Check to see if it’s available for preorder yet at your favorite bookstore here.
Text or Treat is out now in ebook and paperback! Find the bookstore links here.