As fashion maven Cookie Chanel tracks a murderer at the Kentucky Derby, all bets are off . . .
When Cookie Chanel lands a dream assignment of providing vintage hats for a high-society Kentucky Derby party, she's brimming with excitement. Leaving her mother and best friend to mind the store at It's Vintage Y'All, Cookie packs up her psychic cat and races to Kentucky. But before she can hang her hat, her enthusiasm is dampened when the rider of the potential Derby-winning horse is put out to pasture. Now she's saddled with the jockey's ghost, who insists she find his killer. With suspects ranging from an odds-on favorite to a dark horse, Cookie may just find herself in a dead heat before the photo finish . . .
Release date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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If the Haunting Fits, Wear It
The giant black, hairy spider didn’t listen as he scurried toward me. I ran in the opposite direction. The creature was the size of a rat and probably would have survived any attempts I made to extinguish it. The best option for me was to let him run off into the little dark corner he came from. I’d grab what I came into the attic for, and we’d both be happy. We’d call a truce and just leave each other alone.
Running a vintage clothing boutique was not without its hazards. Like the aforementioned spider. Also, there were mice. That was what I got when I crawled around old places looking for treasures. Vintage clothing was my thing. When I spotted a circle skirt, a great pair of pedal pushers, or a fabulous pair of wedge heels, my heart skipped a beat. It truly was an adrenaline rush. I’d turned my passion into a career when I opened It’s Vintage Y’all, my little boutique in the charming small town of Sugar Creek, Georgia.
Today I wore a 1950s Ruth Starling flower-patterned dress. It had tiny rhinestone buttons down the front, with a full skirt and a darted waistline. Perfect for spring, the dress was the bee’s knees. On my feet, I wore pale yellow wedge heels with a small bow across the vamp. Wedges were my favorite, and the color brought out the buttery gerbera daisies in the dress.
I’d responded to an ad announcing vintage clothing for sale. That was what had led me to this old attic. At least there was a small window on the other side of the room. It allowed a tiny amount of daylight to seep into the room. It was a typical attic, with exposed beams, cobwebs, and stacks of boxes. An old dress form was in the corner by the window. Every time I peered up, I thought the thing was a person staring at me. Maybe that explained the creepy feeling I had right now.
I’d been told there were quite a few great vintage pieces in the old trunk that was located in the middle of this cramped space. Mostly, I was looking for hats right now. The woman who had placed the ad had found the items when she’d bought the house, and she said I could just take whatever I wanted. The words were like magic to my ears. I was willing to deal with almost anything for free vintage, even fighting a bear . . . or a bear-sized spider.
The trunk groaned as I opened the lid. Layers of dust whirled to life. My eyes widened when I spotted the red 1940s boater hat. The tilted hat had a narrow brim with a small red veil. Perched on the edge of the brim was a velvet flocked bird with feathers in matching red hues. I was in hat heaven. As I sifted through the trunk, I found many more. There must have been at least twenty hats—all equally fabulous.
Insects, mice, dust, and a few vintage items weren’t all that I found in the attic. When I looked up from the old trunk, I gasped and fell back onto my butt. A woman was standing in the corner of the room. Her stare was locked on me. The sixtysomething woman wore a black, silk crepe, mid-length dress. On her hands were delicate white gloves. Discreet pearl drops dotted her ears, and a matching necklace adorned her neck. Her 1940s tilt hat was made of black cellophane straw. The crown of the hat was encircled with black grosgrain ribbon. She completed her outfit with simple black pumps and a matching pocketbook.
I found it odd that her hat looked so much like the ones in the trunk. Had she taken one of the hats? I hadn’t heard her enter the room. Maybe I’d been so consumed by the hat that I hadn’t noticed. Had she been here all along? Once I was finally on my feet again, I stood in front of the trunk, with several hats still in my arms. Since the woman’s frown sent a clear message that she wasn’t happy to see me, I used the trunk as a shield. It created a nice barrier between us.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
“Cookie Chanel, come down from there. I’m not coming in. I don’t want to get my outfit dirty. Besides, I may be a ghost, but I’m not joining you in that spooky place.”
Now was not the time to deal with Charlotte Meadows. She was a ghost who refused to leave my side. Ever since I’d found her at an estate sale, she’d been stuck to me like flies on honey. She’d been attached to her killer wardrobe, but now she was affixed to me.
I looked at the corner again. The attic ghost wasn’t there. “Where’d you go?”
I looked to the other side of the room. Now she was there. Was she playing games with me?
I focused my attention on her so she couldn’t get away. “I’m sorry, but the woman downstairs said these hats were available.”
She shifted the pocketbook from her right arm to her left. “They’re my hats, and they’re not available.”
This was a bummer. As I put the hats back in the trunk, I noticed something odd. The lower half of the woman was completely see-through. Why hadn’t I noticed that sooner? The longer I looked at her, the more solid she became. Unfortunately, I knew exactly what this meant. Oh no, not again. Why was this happening to me? I enjoyed helping ghosts, but I was just confused . . . why me?
I had to let this woman know that she was no longer in this dimension. Were the hats in the trunk hers? Considering the gorgeous hat she wore, I’d be willing to bet that was the case. I could understand why she was so concerned about the ones in the trunk. I picked the hats up again. A ghost wouldn’t keep me from taking them.
“You do realize that you are a ghost?” I asked as I filled my arms with the hats.
She glared at me. “Well, that’s neither here nor there. They’re my hats.”
So she did know she was a ghost.
Charlotte poked her head through the door. Literally. “What seems to be the problem, Cookie? Hurry it up. I don’t want to have to come all the way in there.”
Before I could answer, Charlotte spotted the woman across the room. Suddenly, Charlotte had no problem with setting foot in the attic. She popped in and stood beside me with her arms crossed in front of her chest. Charlotte was pretty territorial about me, as if I was her own personal psychic. Charlotte was dressed in a white tailored pantsuit. A beige silk tank top peeked out from under her jacket. On her feet, she wore five-inch heels and nude-colored Christian Louboutins. That was one perk of being a spirit: Charlotte got to wear whatever outfit she thought up in her mind.
Charlotte tapped her foot against the floor. “And who is this?”
“Not that it’s any of your concern, but my name is Maureen Weber.” She stared at Charlotte. “Who are you?”
“I’m Charlotte Meadows. That’s all you need to know.”
I could see this was getting nowhere.
“Maureen, I understand you’re attached to your hats, but since you no longer need them, maybe I could let someone else use them who would really enjoy them.” I forced a huge smile.
“So you want to steal my hats.”
Charlotte shook her fist. “Don’t call Cookie a thief.”
I clapped my hands. “Ladies, ladies, let’s not argue, shall we?”
What could I do to get this woman to let me have the hats? I supposed I would just have to leave them in the trunk. It was sad, really, because I was on a mission to find fantastic hats for a very special event. Danielle Elston had requested vintage hats to wear for the upcoming Kentucky Derby. She simply couldn’t go to the Derby without a fantastic hat. Danielle had the money to buy any new hat she wanted, but she had requested that I help her.
Maureen moved a couple steps closer. She was totally solid now.
“I know she’s a ghost.” Maureen pointed at Charlotte. “But there’s something different about you. I think you’re still with the living.” Maureen sashayed over to us.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Good heavens. It looks like two pigs fighting in a sack. One says you let me go by this time and I’ll let you go by the next.”
“Charlotte! That’s not very nice,” I said.
Maureen looked me up and down. “How can you see me if you’re the living?”
I exchanged a look with Charlotte. “I don’t really know how I can see you.”
A huge smile spread on Maureen’s face. “Since you can see me, you can help find my murderer.”
My bags were all packed and loaded into the trunk of my car. It was a good thing I had plenty of room back there. I might have gone a little overboard with the luggage. It was almost impossible to pick just a few outfits to take though. I had no idea how many events I would attend. And a girl had to be stylish. The excitement was all just too much. Danielle insisted I come to the Derby to make sure her outfits were always spot-on.
I had said good-bye to my best friend, Heather, and my mother. They would be watching the shop until I got back.
I’d decided to drive to Kentucky. A car like mine would make the trip even more enjoyable. My grandfather had left me his mint-condition red 1946 Buick convertible. It was an eye-catcher. Plus, since I was driving, I could easily take Wind Song with me. The gorgeous white feline had mysteriously shown up at my doorstep. Her sudden appearance wasn’t the only thing mysterious about her either. I’d quickly discovered that she could use tarot cards and a Ouija board. I know that sounds crazy, but there is an explanation.
“Why not leave the cat—er, I mean Grandma Pearl—here?” Heather had asked. “She can stay with us at the shop.”
I rubbed Wind Song’s head. “Because Grandma Pearl always wanted to go to the Derby.”
Yes, my grandmother had slipped into the cat’s body during a séance. Now I had to figure out how to get her out of there, though I was almost sure she didn’t want to leave.
I loaded up the car and placed Wind Song in the driver’s seat.
“She will just have to share the seat with me,” Charlotte said from the passenger seat.
Wind Song hissed at Charlotte.
“Please tell your grandmother not to talk to me that way.” Charlotte sat up straight in the seat.
“Maybe I will reconsider this whole trip if you two plan on bickering the whole ride,” I said, shoving the key into the ignition.
Charlotte had become a dear friend, but she really knew how to push everyone’s buttons at times.
“Okay, I promise not to argue with your grandmother, who is now a cat.”
“Thank you for not arguing with my grandmother the cat,” I said.
If anyone heard what I’d said, they would think I’d lost my mind.
There was no way Charlotte was going to stay behind while I went to the Derby. She had already modeled her hat for me. Since Charlotte was a ghost, all she had to do was think of the outfit she wanted to wear and—poof—it would appear.
I had spent quite a bit of time looking for my hat, though now I felt like I had found the perfect one for the first Saturday in May. It was white with a black ribbon around the brim and red flowers on the side. I’d recently picked it up for a fantastic price at an estate sale.
Maureen was sitting in the middle of the backseat. She shook her head. “It’s like I’m riding to Kentucky with the three stooges. Except one of the stooges is a cat.”
“Are you insulting us?” Charlotte asked.
I frowned as I looked in the rearview mirror. “That’s not nice, Maureen.”
“Sometimes the truth hurts,” she said.
I wasn’t sure how this trip was going to turn out when I had two ghosts along for the ride.
Finally, we hit the Kentucky state line. It was rolling hills and green grass for as far as I could see. Maureen was a socialite like Charlotte. Now I had two high-maintenance ghosts hanging around. As if one wasn’t enough, now I had two ghosts competing for my attention.
Wind Song had mysteriously appeared at my shop. Turns out it was really my dearly departed Grandmother Pearl. That explained why the cat could read tarot cards and use a Ouija board.
Derby Week would be jam-packed with activities. Wind Song would enjoy seeing the horses and the fashions. I was staying at a charming old bed-and-breakfast. At least that was the way it had looked from the photos. Now I just needed to find the place. The photos of Woodhaven Inn had shown a lovely wide front porch where I could relax and enjoy a glass of iced tea. I was looking forward to that. Leafy maple trees surrounded the historic home, providing ample shade. Pink blossoms popped up around the lawn like bridesmaids’ bouquets.
“I think you’re going the wrong way,” Charlotte yelled as she pointed toward the exit sign.
I cut the wheel and sped down the exit ramp.
“You’re going to kill us all over again,” Maureen said.
Wind Song meowed.
“I’ve got everything under control. Don’t worry. Plus, you two are already dead. I’m positive that I can’t kill you again. And cats have nine lives, right?” I said with a chuckle.
Charlotte, Maureen, and Wind Song glared at me.
“Tough crowd,” I said.
The bed-and-breakfast was on the outskirts of town and about a thirty-minute drive from Churchill Downs. Yet it felt as if I was in the country. The old house was surrounded by oak, pine, and magnolia trees. It was a red-brick federal-style home. A large porch with white columns welcomed me to the front door. Black urns with big ferns were spaced out along the length of the porch. I walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. Glancing over my shoulder as I waited for someone to answer, I couldn’t help but notice just how dark it was out here.
“This place is spooky,” Charlotte said, rubbing her arms and acting as if she had a shiver. “I bet it’s haunted.”
I stared at her.
“What? Just because I’m a ghost doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of ghosts. Remember?”
I’d never understand Charlotte.
After what seemed like forever, someone opened the door. The gray-haired woman smiled at me. She wore a sweatshirt with tiny pictures of cats on the front. Brown pants coordinated her outfit. Definitely not vintage.
“Good evening. You must be Ms. Chanel,” she said.
“Yes, please call me Cookie.”
“I’m Hannah Olson, the proprietor. Come on in, and I’ll show you to your room.” She motioned for me to come inside.
“Well, at least she seems nice enough,” Charlotte said.
Charlotte hardly paid anyone a compliment that quickly. Preparing to follow the woman through the house, I picked up one of my pieces of luggage with one hand and the cat carrier with the other.
Hannah immediately stopped and looked at the carrier. “What is that?”
“My cat. You said it wasn’t a problem to bring her along.”
“I said that?” She frowned.
“Yes, I’m sure it was you when I booked the room.” I held the carrier up so she could get a better look at how pretty Wind Song was.
Charlotte eyed Hannah up and down. “Does she not like cats? She’s wearing a cat sweatshirt, for heaven’s sake.”
Hannah slumped her shoulders as if the weight of the world was now on her. “I suppose that would be okay.”
Her reaction was a bit dramatic, in my opinion.
“Do you have a cat?” I asked.
My gaze traveled down to her sweatshirt. “No reason.”
“If you’d like, I can show you around tomorrow and tell you the history of the house. I suppose you’d rather wait since it’s getting so late this evening.” She looked at the grandfather clock with a frown.
“That means you came too late, and she doesn’t want to show you tonight,” Charlotte said.
Yes, I got the hint.
“That would be nice. Thank you,” I said.
The woman took me upstairs and down the hall. The bannister squeaked as I grabbed hold. Under my feet, the treads on the stairs moaned with each step. Dim light made it difficult to see exactly where I was going. Cream and gold wallpaper with a scroll and floral pattern covered the walls that led from the first to the second floor.
“Are the floors original to the house?” I asked when we reached the top of the staircase.
“Of course. And I’ve completely restored the house.”
“It’s lovely,” I said as I took in the rich wood molding and trim.
She opened the door. “Well, here it is. I think you’ll love this room. If you need anything, just let me know. Breakfast will be ready at seven in the morning.”
I would have to set my alarm if I wanted to be awake that early.
“Thank you,” I said.
She eyed m. . .
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