Operations were underway for the most buzz-worthy thing to happen at Moonlight Manor since the murder of Beatrix de Haviland. The Gothic mansion and its three resident ghosts, including the self-appointed feline Lord of the Manor, Sir Bogart, were finally going to capitalize on history.
Trust me when I tell you, they took blessed little convincing, and now I couldn’t be more thrilled to serve as mistress to the haunted manor. Banging echoed out front, and I wasn’t sure if it was repairs or ghosts. My grand opening was shaping up to be quite the event.
My escape from New York City to the sleepy town in Maine called Misty Meadows had been bumpy at best. But my luck was about to change. There could be no better use for a massive nineteenth-century mansion, rumored to be haunted, than a series of ghostly tours during the spookiest season of the year. All Hallows Eve would never be the same.
Sure, the guests would assume that everything had been done with the proverbial ‘smoke and mirrors,’ but my trio of ghosts and I would know the truth. The haunting of Moonlight Manor was as real as could be.
It was incredibly fortunate that freckle-faced baker Frannie Clark and I had hit it off before I’d even officially moved to town. She, too, had migrated from the Midwest to the East Coast and done a soul-sucking stint in New York City. Frannie understood me. And more importantly, she didn’t force me to give her details I preferred to keep private. She accepted me and supported me, especially when it came to the phantom friends in residence at Moonlight Manor.
Plus, one thing Frannie was absolutely unstoppable at was gathering the troops. She knew everyone in town, knew what they were good at, and knew how to get ahold of them. She’d found someone
to help me clean the manor when I moved in, she’d found someone to lend me a car, and best of all, she’d convinced Davis Martin, the ox-shouldered son of the local hardware store owner, to serve as my handyman in exchange for free pastries from her bakery. I tried to offer him money on more than one occasion, but his crooked-grin answer was always the same.
“Keep your money,” he said. “Frannie’s got me covered.”
Yet I’d seen the man eat. How Frannie made enough for him, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t imagine how she planned to keep Heaven Can Bake afloat with this guy running a tab, but I was extremely grateful for the help, and it was my handyman whose help I needed right now.
“Davis?” I called.
When I caught sight of him, I had to stop on the broad stone terrace in front of the manor and lean against the wrought-iron railing to catch my breath. One would think that the fall weather in Maine would require more clothing than carpenter pants and a skin tight T-shirt drenched with sweat. As I stared at the thirst-trap of a man in my yard, I could barely force myself to swallow. Having this guy around meant I required repeated reminders—I’d sworn off men. After the selfish ex I left behind in New York, I didn’t need the mess in my newly restarted life.
I sighed and tipped my head as I watched Davis wrap an extension cord around his arm. What would it be like to be that lucky, little extension cord?
Davis dropped the coiled cord in his hand and shaded his eyes against the bright sun. “Whaddya need, Syd?”
Blinking, I brought my brain back to the reason I needed to hunt him down. “Um . . . Updates.”
He nodded once and picked up a collection of shims. “One sec.”
It made me happy to know that things between us had become more casual. At least some of the time. When we first met, he tried to call me Miss Coleman every time, and when I insisted on Sydney, he simply switched to Miss Sydney. However, the old manor home was feeling a lot like owning a boat, which meant there was always
something to fix. So Davis and I had fallen into a comfortable rhythm.
He placed the smaller pieces of wood in a neat pile to the side, dropped a handful of wire ends into a bin, and then straightened. “Which updates did you want?”
I stepped toward him, barely able to contain my excitement. “How’s it going with the lights? I can absolutely picture what you’re saying about the up-lighting making the towers look spooky and mysterious, but I can’t wait to see it.”
He grinned, and his green eyes held a hint of pride. “Yeah, it’ll be great. Did you ever tell spooky stories around the campfire when you were a kid?”
I nodded, but I didn’t understand where he was going with his question. Perhaps I was too distracted by his nearness. Yes, that was definitely it.
“Did you ever hold a flashlight under your chin? Changes your whole face. You’re gonna freak out when you see what the manor looks like by the end.” He picked up the heavy loops of electrical cable and got back to work on the repairs under the porch eaves.
Walking down the granite steps to the circle encompassing the fountain in the front yard, I turned and gazed up at my mansion.
My mansion. Yes, I was getting used to saying it, but I still didn’t completely believe it. How had I wound up with a mansion? With towers. With towers! I mentally squealed. One day I was grinding it out at a thankless ad agency job, with a secretly sleazy ex, and the next I was living in a haunted mansion.
Life sure had a strange way of guiding us into new adventures. A failure in New York had brought me to Misty Meadows. It still boggled my mind now and then.
A strange tingle spread across my scalp, interrupting my wool-gathering, and I felt compelled to turn back toward the fountain. I laid my hand on the low wall circling the unused water feature.
“Hey, do you know if this thing runs?” I called over my shoulder before turning around.
Davis scraped the sandy-brown hair back from his sweaty forehead and grinned as he jogged down the steps to join me. “Only one way to find out.”
I stepped back and gave him room to work.
He popped open a flat stone access panel and peered inside.
“No immediate snakes or spiders.”
I shuddered. “I should hope not. It’s getting a little cold out this season for snakes.”
He gave me a squinty-eyed wink and got right to it. There were wrenches, screwdrivers, and at one point even a crowbar, but eventually a trickle of water dripped from the vase that was held by a lady.
I peered up at the statue as the water dribbled over it. “It’s sort of working. There’s a little water coming out of her pot.”
Davis straightened and gazed at me in mock horror. “Did you just call the eternal vessel of love, held in the arms of the incredibly beautiful goddess Aphrodite, a pot?”
My eyes widened, and I shook my head. “No. Of course not.”
His warm laughter softened the blow of my lack of knowledge. “Don’t worry. I didn’t know either. I overheard Augusta Adams tearing into somebody at the hardware store. Don’t ask me how they landed on the topic of an old fountain at Moonlight Manor, but they said something about Diana and a water pitcher, and old Augusta let ’em have it.” Then he disappeared into the inner-working of the water feature once more.
I chuckled, but not as easily as Davis. Augusta was something else.
Finally, he gave a triumphant snort. “Ah ha, here it is, you only thought you could hide your inner workings from me . . .” Davis muttered. Then his voice trailed away as my thoughts turned to the others I’d met during my adventure in business-owning.
I’d been warned more than once about Augusta’s temper. That woman had an unmatched reputation in town for architectural and historical expertise, and she did not suffer fools on either topic
Plus, she was the founder and sole owner of the Adams School of Colonial Arts. Her fine work had repaired a damaged pane of antique stained glass at the mansion, after someone hurled a rock through. In addition to the repair, she paid the hooligan, Gladys Williams, a personal visit after the incident. Yikes.
If only that had been the last time I’d had a run in with busybody and amateur vandal Gladys Williams. However, since the start of publicizing the haunted mansion tours, I could count on near daily visits from my angry neighbor. How she had so much time on her hands with her own manor, I didn’t understand. She had to have staff taking care of things, if she could afford to always be causing problems in my business ventures.
Though, she never had a direct complaint. It was always more of a random threat about a vague violation. If she could be believed, she had the entire book of city codes memorized, and my manor was breaking most of them.
It got so bad this past week, I had to call Sheriff Haley Allen out and have the woman officially escorted off my property. Sheriff Allen had been as grim-faced about the ordeal as I’d ever seen her.
Which, in case you’re not familiar, meant that the sheriff told the violator that they were never to set foot on the property again, and if they did, they would be arrested and officially charged with trespassing. The way the sheriff explained it to me, was that it was similar to a restraining order, but without getting the courts involved.
Gladys seemed harmless enough, so it sounded like the type of deterrent that would be effective. I hoped the warning worked in a long-term way. Gladys didn’t need to have anything to do with my grand opening.
Correction: She didn’t need to have any opportunity to foul up my grand opening.
At my feet, Davis grunted. “Off. Found a spider.”
“Are you okay?”
“Fine. Fine. Ah, there’s the problem.” He didn’t add anything else.
Another splatter came out of the pot, and I turned to watch the liquid slip down the statue. Davis kept banging.
Additional clanging, screeching, and a strange gurgling thump were followed by a massive spout of water—which caught me square in the face.
Screaming, I jumped back. I scrubbed at my face, already trying to calculate how old the liquid was. How long had it been there inside the fountain? Did it matter?
Davis scrambled out from whatever secret interior fountain panel he’d been working on and covered his mouth. Not necessarily in surprise. It was more to hide his laughter.
“Davis. I’m soaked.” I immediately started to shiver in the cool air of autumn.
He jogged to my side of the fountain, scooped an arm around me, and hurried me indoors, into the foyer. “You’re freezing. Let’s get you into some dry clothes, Miss Coleman.”
Through chattering teeth, I admonished him. “For the—the—umpteenth time, Davis, c-c-call me Sydney. You know how much I hate Miss Coleman. And the water is not your fault. I was the one st-st-anding right in front of Aphrodite’s b-b-bottomless jug of love or whatever you called it.” My whole body quaked with cold. “How long do you think that water was in there? Do you think I need a dose of antibiotics or something?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Oh, no, no antibiotics necessary, Sydney. Water was from further inside the statue than all that. Now you get upstairs and dry off. We can’t have you catch your death of a cold right before your grand opening.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and vigorously rubbed the goosebumps on my arms. “Th-th-thanks. Let me know when you get the fountain under control.”
He bounded out the front door, still chuckling, and called over his shoulder, “Will do.”
Sir Bogart, my feline overlord, appeared next to me on the steps. His silky black fur glowed to perfection and his intelligent yellow eyes sparked with secrets. “I feel quite certain that young man is sweet on you, mistress.”
My grimace didn’t seem to deter Sir Bogart. So I added, “Not today, Sir Matchmaker. As you know, I have bigger fish to fry.” He shrugged his lithe shoulders and vanished, ...