USA Today -Bestselling Author: When a film crew wakes up a sleepy Georgia town, murder is in fashion... “Rose Pressey’s books are fun!”—Janet Evanovich Sugar Creek is all abuzz. A film is being shot on a historic plantation, and vintage clothing store owner Cookie Chanel is thrilled to provide authentic period outfits for its stars. But when Cookie discovers the temperamental leading lady drowned in a pond, wearing a lovely vintage dress, she’s suddenly on location at a real-life crime scene. And when a ghost says the dress belongs to her, the number of clues Cookie has to investigate rivals the size of her shoe collection. With the supernatural support of her psychic cat, Cookie must find a killer in the cast of suspects before the curtain falls on her… “An appealing protagonist who is as sweet as a Southern accent.”— Library Journal “[A] chic and quirky heroine.”—Jennie Bentley, author of the Do-It-Yourself Mysteries Includes Cookie Chanel’s Fashion Tips!
Release date: July 1, 2015
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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All Dressed Up and No Place to Haunt
My day had started out to be a fantastic one, but it had gone downhill quickly. A sweeping saga titled Moonlight and Magnolias was being shot at Fairtree Plantation, and I’d been invited to watch. The 1850 antebellum mansion made a gorgeous backdrop for the film. Maple, oak, magnolia, and dogwood trees covered the twelve-acre estate. The three-story brick home sat at the end of a tree-lined drive.
Silence surrounded the set as I watched the actors bring the script to life. The lead characters were embraced in a passionate kiss. Of course, ten seconds ago they had been arguing. As the gorgeous Nicole Silver wrapped her arms around her hunky costar, Preston Hart, I noticed the sparkle of the ring she wore. Wow, it was huge. I wondered if it was her own or a stage prop.
I’d never been this close to the action before. I’d once watched a movie being filmed while on vacation in New York City, but we’d been held back by barricades. Now I had a front-row seat for all the action. I was thrilled that I’d managed to get on the set’s special guest list. Apparently, helping the film crew with their vintage costumes had perks. My hometown of Sugar Creek, Georgia, had been abuzz since the director had decided to shoot part of his new movie right here in our little town.
It’s Vintage, Y’All was the name of my clothing boutique, located in the historic section of town. Since I’d started blogging about my great vintage finds, I’d gotten quite the following of readers. It hadn’t taken long before a few movies had asked for my advice with their costumes. This was the biggest film so far though. Nicole Silver and Preston Hart had the kind of star quality that the media loved. I’d read in the tabloids that they were dating in real life.
I had been beyond excited when asked to help with their costumes. Nicole’s shiny blond hair cascaded to her shoulders and had been styled like Veronica Lake’s, with a peekaboo bang on one side. The black-and-white Christian Dior dress that I’d selected for her hugged her curves in all the right places. Her full red lips seemed to be in a constant pouting position. Preston was tall, dark, and handsome, with strong cheekbones and chiseled features. I’d give anything for his thick eyelashes—even my most recent acquisition, a 1960s Gucci handbag. He wore black trousers and a crisp white shirt with a red-and-ivory small paisley wide swing tie.
Fashion is my passion. I love what Coco Chanel said—“Elegance does not consist in putting on a new dress.” And that was why I wore an Eisenhower-era outfit today. Okay, maybe that wasn’t exactly what she’d meant, but nevertheless, it was what I’d gotten from the quote. My name happened to be Cookie Chanel. Funny, right? We weren’t related, as far as I knew. When I’d shown such an interest in fashion, I’d been given the clever moniker of Cookie by my granny, instead of Coco, because it fit so well with Chanel—and, I admit, I really loved cookies as a child and I still do. The name fits me, so I still use it to this day.
The movie was set partly in the forties and partly in the present day. I’d had a wonderful time gathering the outfits for the actors. Of course, I had to dress the part too. After all, vintage was my thing. Today, I wore a rayon/chiffon blend red-and-white polka-dot dress. The fitted bodice came down into a princess waist. It had double straps on the shoulders and a pretty red bow in front. I matched it with a red clutch purse and straw wedge heels with a tiny red trim along the edges. It was hard to look glamorous when your hair was plastered to your head from the relentless heat though. Living in Georgia, that was part of life. But no matter what, I made the best of it.
Nicole and Preston finished their scene, disengaging from their embrace and moving apart, their hands touching until they separated. It would be the last take for the day. I intended to stay until I absolutely had to leave. My visit to the set had been so exciting that I didn’t want it to end.
Shiloh Northcutt, the costume director, approached. She wore white knee-length shorts and a plain white T-shirt. She had definitely dressed for comfort, but she made it look glamorous nonetheless, with a Louis Vuitton leopard-print scarf and strappy, red high-wedged espadrilles. Wisps of auburn hair framed her slender face.
“Cookie, you’ve been a lot of help and the costumes were a huge success. I hope you had a fun time today.” She looked at her oversized white rhinestone watch. It looked like it could belong to the captain of a spaceship. Next to it a tattoo of a red rose decorated her pale skin.
“I had a fantastic time.” I’d barely finished the sentence when Shiloh walked off to greet someone else.
Her abrupt departure was a bit rude, but I figured she was just distracted by all the action. Now that filming was over, I decided to take a walk around the property. I’d never been to the plantation before, and I’d always wanted to get a closer look.
The smell of honeysuckle drifted across the warm summer air as I stepped through the flower garden. A moss-covered stone path led to a patio surrounded by rose bushes. Beyond the flowers, tall hedges provided a green shield from the rest of the property. Moving over to a finely carved wooden bench, I sat down and inhaled the sweet floral perfume. Voices soon caught my attention.
I leaned to my right, hoping to hear what was being said. If you want to call me a snoop, go ahead. I just couldn’t resist, especially with celebrities on the loose. My grandma used to say that I was as curious as a cat in a bird feeder, and I guess she was right. The words were too muffled, so I pushed to my feet and headed toward the sound. When I reached the hedges, I realized the conversation was being held just on the other side. I eased over to the edge and peeked around.
Nicole and Preston were facing each other. Her arms were crossed in front of her waist in a defensive stance. This definitely wasn’t a scene from the movie. She glared at her costar. When he reached out and touched her arm, she jerked away, and I heard the phrase “with her of all people.” I didn’t see the sparkly ring she’d been wearing in the film scene. Maybe it was just a prop, after all. Not wanting to be caught watching their private discussion, I summoned my willpower, set aside my curiosity, inched back, and tiptoed toward the front of the plantation.
On my way back to my car, I ran into a few actors who asked me about the vintage clothing—where I found it, how I took care of it, the research I did to assemble the outfits for the film. After speaking with them for about twenty minutes, I spotted Shiloh again. I’d forgotten to ask her when the clothing would be returned. My plan was to auction the items off and donate the proceeds to a charity. Shiloh was so engrossed in a conversation with another member of the film crew that she didn’t see me walking her way. I recognized the leggy blonde she spoke to as someone who worked with Shiloh in the costume department.
As I neared the women, I heard my name. They still didn’t notice that I was headed in their direction though. I stepped behind a nearby hedge and listened. If anyone saw me hiding in the bushes, they would probably think I’d lost my mind.
“Well, I’m not happy with any of the clothing that she brought,” Shiloh said.
My mouth dropped. She’d acted as if she loved the items that I’d provided. Why hadn’t she mentioned this to me? If she’d told me earlier, I would have been willing to work with her and get the clothing that would have made her happy.
“I guess there’s nothing you can do about it now. I’m sure everything will be fine,” the other woman said.
“It’ll have to be.” Disgust filled Shiloh’s voice.
The women moved down the path in my direction, so I headed the opposite way. I didn’t feel like having a confrontation. If I asked Shiloh why she didn’t express her unhappiness with me about the outfits I’d selected, I would have to admit that I had spied on her conversation.
I figured I would walk a bit until they were safely gone; then I’d go back to my car and get the heck out of there. I didn’t want to chance any more hiding in bushes. The third time might be one too many.
To my right I noticed a pond. It was on the edge of the Fairtree Plantation’s property. I decided to walk over and take a look at it as a way to spend a few more minutes. Once I reached the water’s edge, I wasn’t sure what made me look to my left, but I noticed the body floating facedown on the surface right away.
I knew by the dress that it was Nicole Silver. As I ran closer, I pulled out my cell phone. Before I had a chance to dial, a scream sounded behind me. I glanced back and saw several panicked people running at full speed toward the pond. The movie director sprinted past me and jumped in the water, dragging Nicole’s lifeless body onto the grass. A chill ran up my spine, and I felt tears leaping to my eyes, even though I had barely met the actress.
The white-and-black dress had been a part of the wardrobe I’d found for Nicole. A woman in the town next to ours had donated her grandmother’s things for the charity auction. As I watched the surreal scene play out in front of me, I heard a woman clear her throat. I looked to my left and saw a stranger standing beside me. Her chestnut-brown hair was twisted into an updo, and she wore a pink dress in a style similar to the one that Nicole had been wearing. It wasn’t a dress that I’d given the costume director. I would remember it, if it had been one of mine.
This must have been a dress that the film crew had before they arrived in Sugar Creek. It was a lovely piece, and I was a little jealous that I hadn’t found it myself. The woman wearing it must have been an extra.
“This is just terrible,” she said with a shake of her head.
“So sad,” I agreed. “Were you in the film with her?”
“No, but that’s my dress she’s wearing,” she said matter-of-factly.
I looked at her more closely and realized she had a translucent glow that had nothing to do with the film makeup or lighting. This was no cast extra. Her appearance seemed grainy at first, but slowly she became more solid. She was a ghost.
Oh no, not again.
Police and other official-looking folks surrounded the area. The rest of us watched from a distance.
It had been such a lovely day, and now it had taken this tragic turn. How had Nicole fallen in the water? Had she stepped too close to the pond’s edge and slipped on the wet vegetation? Had she hit her head on a rock and lost consciousness? Or did she not know how to swim?
I looked around at the shocked faces. In a million years, I knew none of them would have expected this turn of events. What would happen to the film? Nicole was the star, but would they replace her? Or just stop the film?
My mind was spinning with questions as I realized the ghost was still talking to me.
“What a tragic end to such a beautiful life,” she said.
I’d learned from past experience that I couldn’t answer her without a formulated strategy. Carefully positioned cell phones or newspapers usually provided good covers, but those items weren’t always available when a ghost popped up. If I talked freely with the ghosts, the people around me would think that I was talking to myself. In a town as small as Sugar Creek, word would spread quickly that I was one dress short of a full boutique. I’d recently dealt with another ghost and didn’t think I’d have to deal with the supernatural again. Even if I had expected another supernatural visitor, I wouldn’t have thought it would happen this soon.
Among the officials I spotted the handsome Detective Dylan Valentine of the Sugar Creek Police Department. Dylan had recently moved here from Atlanta. He had investigated the last homicide investigation in our town. Unfortunately for me, I had been a part of that one. Not because I’d wanted to be involved, but because the ghost of the murdered woman, Charlotte Meadows, had refused to leave me alone until I helped find her killer. That was one reason why I didn’t want to talk with this ghost—I didn’t want to get roped into another postmortem quest for justice. Of course this spirit wouldn’t have anything to do with this latest event. So why was she here?
Would the detective notice that I was in the crowd? I thought about trying to escape before he spotted me, but in a split second it was too late. We made eye contact. He didn’t smile, but I hadn’t expected him to, considering the current situation. He spoke with the police officer beside him, and the next thing I knew he was walking in my direction.
“Uh-oh,” I said under my breath.
“Is there a problem?” the ghost asked. She looked at me and then followed my gaze. “Oh . . . Do you know him?”
I cast a glance her way. When I thought Dylan wasn’t watching, I said, “Yes, he’s a detective with the police department.”
“He’s the cat’s meow,” she whispered.
Detective Valentine was a striking man, with his dark hair and big blue eyes, but that was neither here nor there at the moment.
“Good afternoon, Cookie. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” His eyes sparkled under the bright sun.
I could have said the same thing about him. After all, I hadn’t expected for there to be a death on the set of the movie.
“I was here to watch the shoot. I helped with wardrobe.” I motioned toward the rack of clothing behind us.
“Did you see what happened?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No, I just walked over and there she was, in the pond . . . but a little while earlier, she was talking with someone.” I looked down at my feet and then back up at him. “Actually, they were arguing.”
“You should tell him that I am here,” the ghost said.
Oh yeah, that was exactly what I needed to do.
“In case you didn’t hear me, I said if he’d like to ask me questions, I am right here. I’ve been on this set all day and I saw everything that has been going on. Unfortunately I was inside the building when the murder took place.” She folded her arms in front of her chest and cast a stern glare my way.
I wasn’t going to get into this with her right now.
“Did you tell him that she was arguing with someone? Oh yes, you did tell him. I’m sorry. Am I talking too much?”
“Yes, just a little” was what I wanted to say. But I ignored her and kept focused on the detective.
He saw some more official-looking men arriving—probably from the medical examiner’s office, I guessed. “I’d better get back to work,” he said and turned to walk away. “I’ll be back over in a few minutes to talk with you again if that’s okay?”
“Yes. That would be fine.” I told myself he was just doing his job.
“Smile at the man,” the ghost said. “Show him that gorgeous grin.”
How did she know I had a nice smile?
When the detective had walked away, I glanced around. It seemed as if no one was looking my way, so I asked the ghost, “Who are you? And why are you here?”
“My name is Alice Neill. I would shake your hand, but you know . . .”
Yes, I was aware that if the ghost tried to shake hands with me, her hand would simply pass through mine. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Alice,” I said, “but I really should be going now.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?” She examined me as if ch. . .
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