After suffering a personal tragedy Abby Sullivan buys a huge old seaside mansion she has never even seen, packs up her life in San Francisco, and moves to Holiday Bay Maine, where she is adopted, quite against her will, by a huge Maine Coon Cat named Rufus, a drifter with her own tragic past named Georgia, and a giant dog with an inferiority complex named Ramos. What Abby thought she needed was alone time to heal. What she ended up with was, an inn she never knew she wanted, a cat she couldn't seem to convince to leave, and a new family she'd never be able to live without.
In book 5 in the series, the new bank president, who happens to be the son of the man who founded the community bank, is found dead and buried in his own grave. The man was not popular in the small community after making a lot of changes with his fathers passing and the list of possible suspects who might want him dead is extensive.
Meanwhile, it is October and the inn is hosting Halloween themed events. The haunted weekends are just for fun but when guests report hearing noises in the hallway, Abby wonders if the inn might actually be haunted for real.
Release date: August 13, 2019
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 219
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Haunting in the Hallway
Rain poured down from the inky black sky as I watched Chief of Police Colt Wilder leverage his shovel into the saturated earth. In hindsight, it might have been a good idea to wait until after the storm had passed to check out the theory I’d been mulling over in my mind since I’d learned of Wesley Hamilton’s disappearance. The heir to the Bank of Holiday Bay had last been seen heading toward his car in the lot behind the bank ten days before. In the time since his disappearance, no one had been able to figure out what had become of the man, and even now, all I had to explain the fact that he seemed to have vanished into thin air was an idea born in my imagination. An idea, I reminded myself, that was most likely nothing more than a meaningless whim based on a fantasy I’d cooked up while writing my first thriller all those years ago.
“Have you found anything?” I called into the darkness, straining to be heard over the roar of wind, rain, and the occasional clap of thunder way off in the distance.
“Maybe we should come back another time,” I suggested as a gust of wind whipped my soaking-wet hair across my eyes.
Colt futilely wiped the rain pouring from the brim of his hat away from his face. “You wanted to check out the gravesite, so we are checking out the gravesite. Besides, we’re already soaked to the skin. No use going back before we find what we came for.”
At the time I’d made the decision to call Colt to suggest this excursion, it’d seemed like a good idea. Sure, it’d been raining lightly at that point, and I knew that following through with my intuition was going to mean getting wet, but I’d lived my life in a town where it rained often, so no one could say that Abby Sullivan was afraid of a little precipitation. Of course, I’d suggested this particular course of action before the wind had blown in from the sea, causing what had seemed like a good idea to end up as an act of insanity.
“I really think we should go,” I tried again. “I can hear thunder off in the distance and you are holding a metal shovel.” I turned slightly to steady myself in the gale-force wind.
“Hang on a minute. I might have found something.”
I nodded despite the fact that there was no way that Colt, who was standing in the hole he’d dug, would be able to see me. My breath caught as I watched him remove several more shovelfuls of wet earth and set them aside.
“Well, I’ll be,” he exclaimed in his deep baritone voice.
“Did you find him?”
Colt looked up and grinned in my direction. “Who would have thought that a man who had been missing for ten days would finally be found buried in his own grave?”
I had to admit I was as shocked as Colt seemed to be. Sure, it was my idea to dig up the grave in the first place, but I couldn’t say that I actually believed we’d find the guy there. My suggestion that Wesley Hamilton might be buried in the gravesite reserved for him by his father before he died was no more than a hunch. A hunch, it turned out, that apparently was based in reality.
“So, what now?” I asked.
“I’m going to call in the crime scene guys before I do anything else. I need to stay here until they arrive, so I won’t be able to leave to take you home. Maybe Georgia can come to pick you up.”
I was sure that Georgia Carter, my business partner, roommate, and best friend would be happy to come for me, but I felt bad about leaving Colt standing alone in the rain, so I offered to stay. He thanked me but indicated that it might be best if I wasn’t found in the immediate area when the crime scene unit arrived. I supposed he might be right, so I called Georgia and then went out to the street to wait.
Georgia arrived in her beat-up old truck with a travel mug of hot coffee and a warm blanket. Leave it to Georgia to think of the small touches that always made all the difference. One of the reasons she made such a good manager for the inn we ran was because of her caring nature and attention to detail. “You look like a drowned rat,” she said after handing me the blanket. “The coffee is hot, so be careful, but a few sips should warm you right up.”
“Thank you for the coffee and thanks for coming to get me. It looks like Colt is going to be a while.”
“I can’t believe Wesley Hamilton was actually buried in his own grave. When you suggested it, I found the idea interesting, but I really wasn’t expecting that you’d find him there.” “Honestly, I was as surprised as anyone.” I took a sip of the coffee. “I’m glad he has been found, but my heart is breaking for Kendall and Patrice.”
Kendall Jared was Wesley’s fiancée, and Patrice Hamilton was his mother. Kendall was to marry Wesley at Christmas and had been working on wedding plans for over a year, and Patrice had only recently lost her husband and was finally starting to get over that loss. Losing a fiancé would be tough, but to lose a son? To lose a son was unbearable. I should know; I’d lost mine. Johnathan had been just an infant when he was ripped from my life by a drunk driver who had killed my husband, Ben, as well, while Wesley was well into his twenties or possibly even his early thirties, but I knew in my heart that to lose a child, whatever their age, brought on the most unimaginable pain possible.
“I know this will be hard on both women,” Georgia agreed. “But it seems to me that the past ten days of not knowing has to have been worse.”
“I wonder who did it.” Georgia turned onto the road that led to the country inn we ran together.
“It seems a bold move to bury the guy right there in the family plot.”
Georgia was right. It was bold. And pretty dumb, actually. The fact that the killer had buried Wesley in the plot reserved for him indicated that he or she was someone who knew Wesley and/or the Hamilton family. I had to bet that would narrow down Colt’s suspect list considerably.
“Of course,” Georgia continued, bobbing her head of blond hair as she spoke, “it does seem as if Wesley has managed to make a lot of enemies during his short tenure as bank president. Even his own mother was pretty fed up with the way he’d been running things. The list of local businesses shut down and families run out of their homes must be considerable by this point. I suspect it is from those lists that Colt will find the killer.”
“I imagine you might be right. Emotions do seem to be running high when it comes to the public’s general dissatisfaction with the bank. I even heard that the board of trustees had threatened to replace Wesley as president if he didn’t harness his Scroogelike tendencies a bit.”
“Could they do that? Replace Wesley? His father did establish the bank and he left it to his only son.”
“I don’t know the specifics, but the bank has stockholders, and even though Wesley owned a majority share, the board of trustees seems to wield a certain amount of power over the bank’s activities. The rumor circulating around town about the board threatening to replace Wesley may have been nothing more than a hope, but in my mind, the very idea of having anyone other than a Hamilton at the helm seems to indicate just how unhappy everyone is.”
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to start a list of the people we know who had been negatively impacted by the bank’s new policies,” Georgia commented as she parked in front of our seaside cottage.
As soon as we arrived home, I headed inside to take a hot shower while Georgia made a pot of tea. Since the inn had opened, we’d settled into the routine of sharing a pot of tea and discussing the comings and goings at the end of every day. Georgia was in charge of the day-to-day operations, but I owned the place and wanted to stay in the loop, so the routine had developed naturally.
As I shampooed my hair, I thought about the body in the cemetery. The idea of checking out Wesley’s gravesite had come about as a result of the thriller I’d written years ago. In my story, which featured an agent from the FBI who’d teamed up with a psychic to find a serial killer, the body of one of the victims had eventually been found buried in the grave that the man had purchased for his own eventual use. I’m not sure what made me think of that while working on my current work in progress, but the idea had popped into my head, and I’d gone with it. Still, the fact that Wesley actually had been buried in a grave marked for his own eternal rest was surprising, even to me.
“I have pumpkin cookies to go with the tea,” Georgia informed me as I emerged from my bedroom wearing my pajamas and a warm robe.
“Tea and cookies sound perfect.” I curled up on the sofa after setting my teacup on the table in front of me. Georgia’s dog, Ramos, and my dog, Molly, were stretched out in front of the fire, but my cat, Rufus, jumped up onto the sofa and curled up in my lap. “So who checked in and who checked out, and what do we know about the new arrivals?”
“The Osgoods checked out of suite one today,” Georgia started. While we’d named all the suites, we’d also numbered them for simplicity’s sake, one being the one on the first floor, two and three on the second, four and five on the third, leaving the attic suite as six. “We don’t have anyone arriving for that suite until the Goodmans check in on Thursday. A woman named Dixie Landers checked in today with her daughter, Holly. They are occupying suites two and three. They plan to be here for just over a week.”
“I’m assuming Holly is an adult daughter?”
“She is. I would say that she is probably in her midtwenties and her mother is probably around fifty. Maybe fifty-five. It’s hard to tell. The women seem very nice and they have an interesting reason for being here.”
I took a sip of my tea, allowing the warmth to glide slowly down my throat. “Oh, and what’s that?”
Georgia crossed her legs under her body and leaned forward slightly. “Dixie was put up for adoption when she was four years old. She told me that she didn’t remember anything about her birth parents and never spent much time thinking of them once she’d settled into her new home. In fact, according to her, by the time she was an adult, she couldn’t even remember their names or what they’d looked like. But then, a few months ago, she received a small package in the mail that contained a leather-bound journal and a handwritten letter from a woman who identified herself only as R. In her letter, R stated that she’d been a friend of Dixie’s birth mother and wanted to both inform Dixie of her mother’s death and to send along the only thing that she had of hers, the journal her mother had kept around the time her daughter was born. She didn’t know if Dixie was interested, or if she had questions about her birth and eventual adoption, but she indicated in the letter that, if she did, the journal would help with them.”
“I wonder how the friend happened to have the journal in the first place,” I said. “Actually, I’m even more interested in how the friend knew how to get hold of Dixie if she had been given up for adoption so many years ago.”
“Dixie didn’t know, but she was curious, so she read the journal. As it turned out, she was one of four children. She was the oldest, but if the journal was accurate, she had three younger sisters: twins Hannah and Heather, who’d just turned two when their mother gave them up, and an infant named Lily.”
“Wow. That’s some story. Is Dixie here to try to find her sisters?”
“She is, although she has very little to go on. The person who sent the journal didn’t include a mailing address, but the postmark on the package was from the post office here in Holiday Bay, so she and her daughter decided to visit town to see what they could dig up.”
“If Dixie was four when her mother gave up custody of her children, she must remember something.”
“She said she had just turned four when she went to her new home. She vaguely remembers being scared at first, but her adoptive parents were nurturing and supportive, so over time, she began to relax and concentrate on her new life. By the time she was an adult, she really couldn’t remember anything about her life before she was adopted. Then she received the package with the journal, and ever since, small snippets of her early life have come back to her. She is pretty sure her mother had dark hair, and she thinks they lived in a forested area. She doesn’t remember having a father, but she does remember the twins and the baby. She told me that her memories are disjoined and she isn’t certain if what she thinks she remembers are real or were born in her imagination.”
I picked up a cookie and took a bite. “I get that. Sometimes I had what I was sure were memories that felt very real to me, but my sister insists that the events I swear I remember from our childhood never happened. I even remember living in a house with a grand entry, but Annie and I went through every house we ever lived in as children and not a one of them had a grand entry.”
“I suppose the remnants of dreams and fantasies exist in our minds the same way memories of actual events do. Once the image is implanted, I can see how the two might get mixed up.”
I took another sip of my tea. “Dixie’s story certainly has caught my attention. I’ll have to make a point of introducing myself to her at breakfast. Did she indicate whether the journal said anything about why their mother gave them up for adoption?”
“According to the journal, the mother became ill and thought she was going to die. She was no longer able to care for the children on her own, and their father took off when he found out she was pregnant with baby number four, so she felt that giving them up was her only option. R indicated in the letter she sent with the journal that Dixie’s mother had only recently died, so I guess we can assume she must not have died from the illness that caused her to give up her children. Of course, she never sought them out either, so I guess she must have assumed they were better off in their new homes.”
“I can’t imagine being faced with that choice. I wonder if Dixie’s mother had any family she could have turned to.”
“It seems that she must not have, or perhaps her family was unwilling to take on four little girls. It’s hard to understand why the mother made the choice she did without having all the pieces to the puzzle.”
Rufus jumped down off my lap and joined the dogs by the fire. I supposed I was moving around too much for his liking. It was just as well. It was tricky to balance hot tea and cookies with a twenty-five-pound cat in my lap. “Did the man who planned to check into suite four arrive?” I asked, changing the subject back to our review of the day.
“He did. He is in town for a job interview, so he only plans to stay three nights, but we have a couple checking into that suite for the weekend, so it will only be vacant for two nights. A man and his niece checked into suite five today. I didn’t have a chance to speak with them at length, but I sense there is a story there as well. And, of course, Gaylord is still in the attic suite.”
Gaylord Godfry was a retired history professor who’d checked into the inn three weeks ago. He’d told us that he planned to use his time in Maine to write the great American novel. I had no idea if he was a talented writer, but he did seem to be putting in the time required to write a novel. His reservation went through Thanksgiving, which worked out well for us. He’d booked early, and we were happy to have him.
“Did Gaylord decide if he wanted to participate in the murder mystery dinner? It is just two weeks away and the company that’s putting on the event wants to get a final head count.”
“I’ll ask him tomorrow,” Georgia said. “We have all six suites booked for that weekend and the guests from four of the other five suites have confirmed their reservations for the dinner party. I’m still trying to get hold of the guest who has a deposit on suite four that weekend, but I’ll track them down, and I’ll verify with Gaylord too. We also have about twenty people from town who have reserved spots. If Gaylord decides to join us, we should have an even thirty, which puts us at capacity. The thirty is not counting you and me or Nikki, but I figured we’d all be working the party and wouldn’t be joining in.”
Nikki Peyton lived with her brother, Tanner, on the estate to the east of us. Tanner Peyton trained dogs for service organizations, and Nikki, his much-younger half sister, helped Georgia out in the inn with cleaning and laundry.
“And the pumpkins for the pumpkin patch?”
“They will arrive on Friday of this week. We will need to get them placed on the lawn once they show up. I’ve been advertising for weeks that we will have music on the lawn, food for sale, crafts for sale from local craftspeople, and pumpkins and face painting for the kids on Saturday. The inn looks fantastic, and I think this is a good opportunity to show off what we have accomplished and what we have to offer.”
“I agree. I’m looking forward to the entire month. Did Lonnie come by to help you hang the skeletons in the hallways?”
Georgia nodded. I had hired Lonnie Parker to oversee the renovation of the inn, and even though his job was now complete, we could always count on him to come by when we needed either some muscle or some height; Georgia and I were both petite.
“While he was here, he promised that he would be by this week to check out the flicker we seem to be having in the lights in both the inn and the cottage.”
I smiled. “The flicker that Gaylord is certain is linked to the strange noises he’s been hearing in the hallway at night?”
Georgia’s face grew serious. “I realize that Gaylord’s assertion that we have spooks in the house is sort of out there, but he’s not the only guest to mention the rattling in the hallway. The couple who checked out of suite two a few days ago swore they heard a pitter-patter overhead, and the man who stayed in suite three said he felt a presence when he got up to grab a snack in the middle of the night.”
“It’s probably just the very realistic decorations you’ve put up. We wanted to create the feel of a haunted inn and, apparently, we’ve done just that.”
“What about the flickering lights?” Georgia asked.
“I’m sure it is just a short in the wiring system. Lonnie will figure it out.”
Georgia got up and walked to the window. It was still pouring rain. “I guess I should go do our nighttime lockup.” She pulled on a rain slicker. “Hopefully, if we do have a ghost, it will behave itself tonight.”
The inn was a twenty-four-hour a day, seven day a week undertaking. Georgia and I had established a routine of locking all the doors and making sure all the overhead lights on the main floor were turned off at ten. There were dim nightlights for guests who might get up for a drink or a snack after that, and all the suite keys also opened the back door leading from the kitchen out to the drive between the house and the cottage,should one of the guests return from town after lockup. At this point, Georgia was working seven days a week with Nikki’s help, but eventually, we planned to employ someone to cover the daily operations at least part of the time so Georgia could have some time off. Of course, we’d just begun booking rooms two months ago, so in the short term, she seemed fine with the way things were. She provided a hot breakfast and dinner, but the guests were on their own for lunch. With Nikki’s assistance with the cleaning and laundry, Georgia had time to focus on marketing, reservations, and the food.
I picked up my teacup and cookie plate, set them in the sink, and began emptying the dishwasher. During the day, Georgia handled the inn, while I focused on my writing, but we generally shared the chores associated with the cottage in which we lived together now that Georgia had a full-time job, just as I did. Now that my writing career was up to speed again and the inn was fully operational, Georgia and I were both busier than we first imagined we would be. That was fine, though. I could see that Georgia was in her element with meals to prepare and guests to see to, and I was happy to be back in the saddle with my writing. I’d started off slowly, uncertain of my readiness to be back in the public eye, but I had a book signing at the local bookstore the next day, and my newest novel would be released in a month.
I reached up to place a pair of wineglasses on the overhead rack when I noticed that I had a call on my cell phone. It was Colt, so I picked up. “Hey. What’s going on? The body we found did turn out to be Wesley Hamilton, right?”
“It did. At least the first one.”
“The first one?”
“When the crime scene guys got here and excavated Wesley’s body, they found another one beneath his.”
“I’m afraid not. The other body is fully decayed, so we don’t know who it belonged to or how long it’s been there yet. What I can say is that whoever killed Wesley was not the first person to have the idea to bury their kill in the Hamilton family plot.”
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