Salem, Massachusetts, B&B owner Charlene Morris will need the luck of the Irish—and the help of a ghost—to unveil a hooded killer . . .
Charlene has hired a van to ferry her B&B guests to an all-you-can-eat corned beef and cabbage dinner hosted by Salem’s Irish community at the Ancient Order of Hibernians club—but she should have booked a hearse. It’s never a good sign when the family black sheep drunkenly crashes a party by punching the guy dressed as a leprechaun. But things go from troublesome to fatal when Charlene stumbles upon a second brawl in an upper room—and this fight Connor Gallagher loses, his anonymous assailant rushing past Charlene, hidden by a hoodie.
Now Detective Sam Holden has another homicide on his hands, with Charlene as the only eyewitness. Even if she can’t give the police sketch artist much to go on, Charlene is determined to ID the murderer, with the help of Dr. Jack Strathmore, the charming ghost who haunts her B&B. The answer lies in the motive, and to uncover that sleuth and spook will need to shine a light on Connor’s shady past—before the killer pulls another Irish goodbye . . .
Release date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Mrs. Morris and the Pot of Gold
“Charlene.” Six-year-old Mason Fishburne tugged at her green skirt. “Will there be real lepercons at the party?”
Charlene cupped her chin and peered down at her hopeful young guest. Salem’s Irish community hosted an annual corned beef and cabbage dinner. She’d gotten lucky with tickets and a private table to the sold-out event. Each stub included green beer or green lemonade, all-you-can-eat corned beef and cabbage, and live music by an authentic Irish band. Surely there would be a leprechaun!
“Could be.” She glanced over Mason’s curly brown hair to smile at his dad, Ken Fishburne. “We can hunt for one and his pot of gold.”
Ken gave her a thumbs-up and continued his search through Mason’s jacket for his son’s mittens. Deana Fishburne upended the contents of her purse to the table by the front door.
“What do lepre—lep—what do they look like?” Mason, dressed in a green sweatshirt with a shamrock on the front, shuffled his feet nervously.
“Oh, leprechauns are tiny people, about your size,” Charlene said. “I hear that if you catch one, you can make them share their stash of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
“They’ve got scraggly orange beards!” Minnie, her housekeeper, chased Silva, the cat, across the foyer between them. “And a green top hat.” She swiped for Silva’s tail but missed.
Charlene noticed a small stick stuck in the cat’s green collar. “Here, kitty, kitty.”
Silva darted past them and up the stairs, watching them all with golden eyes from the second-floor gallery, tail swishing in satisfaction at having evaded capture.
“I’ll get the twig later,” Minnie said to Charlene. “After I rescue the bread from the oven.” She hurried to the kitchen, where a yeasty smell emanated.
“I sure hope we see one.” Mason stood next to his dad—at six, the boy barely reached Ken’s knee. “And catch him.”
“Got ’em!” Deana held up two black mittens from the pile and dumped the rest of the assorted junk back in her purse. “A pot of gold would be awesome. I’ll help you look.”
Ken dropped a casual arm around his wife’s shoulders. “We could trade in the Buick for a Cadillac Escalade with TVs in the back and Bose surround sound. Big enough amp to knock our neighbors off their feet.”
Deana bumped her hip to his. “There is nothing wrong with our car.” She grinned at their only child. “What would you buy, hon, if you had a pot of gold?”
“I dunno.” Mason looked at his sneakers and up at them. “Could we trade it for a brother?”
Charlene witnessed the quick flash of hurt in Deana’s eyes and the way Ken pulled her close to kiss the top of her head. She commiserated with them, as their grief was very familiar.
With her husband gone too soon, and at the ripe old age of forty-three, Charlene’s chances were over. She’d resigned herself to this hard fact and now enjoyed the sound of laughter that her guests and their children brought to Charlene’s.
“Where’s the rest of the gang?” Charlene eyed the stairs as a door slammed on the second floor. That had to be either the Brookses or the Prescotts, but she’d put her money on the fortysomething couple who had an air of snobbery about them: Dell and Harmony Brooks.
The Prescotts were from the English countryside, the Cotswolds. Refined and retired, in their seventies, they were not the door-slamming type. The Leonards had checked out of a suite this morning. Her other guests were two brothers in their mid-twenties, Marc and John Ward from Rhode Island. The Fishburnes were in the largest suite, since they were staying a little over a week.
“I’m hungry,” Mason said, patting his tummy.
“I reminded everyone at breakfast that we’d meet at four sharp.” It was now 3:59. Charlene’s reservation was at four-thirty, but she wanted to leave early in case there was a problem with the rental van or parking. She’d learned in the last year and a half to allow wiggle room with a large group.
“We’re ready.” Ken wrapped a green scarf around his neck and tucked it under his navy jacket. Deana and Mason both wore black puffer jackets and jeans, though they’d accessorized with green Kiss Me, I’m Irish buttons.
“Silva is so cool.” Mason waved at the cat, who was licking her paws on the edge of the gallery. “Wish I had a cat like her.” The boy gave his father an entreating glance.
Ken ruffled Mason’s curly hair. “What happened to getting a dog?”
“If I make friends with the leprechaun and he gives us some of the gold, can I have both?” Mason clasped his hands adoringly.
Laughing, Charlene turned as Harmony and Dell descended the stairs. Each had styled brown hair and pleasant features. “Right on time,” Harmony said, chin hefted for an argument. Shamrocks dangled from her ears as she and her husband swept past in matching leather jackets to wait by the front door.
Ken raised a brow but said nothing. Deana’s pretty face turned pink. Charlene took it in stride, as the variety of personalities in the world was endless. Some perhaps were a tiny bit nicer than others. She kept her smile in place.
It widened as Jasper and Lila Prescott reached the stairs. Lila’s hair was silver and styled in a bob, and Jasper’s was more of an iron-gray. Lila’s dark tweed trench coat had been paired with a cashmere scarf.
“We hope we didn’t keep ye, luvs,” Lila said in her lyrical British voice. Arm in arm, she and Jasper reached the foyer. “I couldn’t find a touch of green. What was I thinking? Traveling in March.”
Jasper rubbed his hands together and waggled his brow at his wife of fifty years. “I think she’s askin’ to be pinched.”
“Oh no! You gotta have green on or a lepercon can pinch you. You can borrow my glasses, Mrs. Prescott,” Mason said, holding out the flashy green frames in his hand.
“Thank ye, lad. You’re saving me from a sore derriere.” Lila held the frames to her chest as a shield against her chuckling husband.
“What’s that?” Mason asked. “De . . .”
“Why don’t we get into the van?” Charlene suggested, hoping the activity would save the Fishburnes an explanation on the French word for butt.
Just then the Ward brothers raced down the stairs as if it was the last leg of a triathlon. Since they’d checked in on Friday night, she’d noticed that everything was a competition between them.
“Sorry to be late!” Marc grinned at them all in a way that made it easy to forgive his trespasses. Charlene knew the brothers had stayed out last night, but the dark-haired, brown-eyed pair appeared none the worse for wear.
John elbowed his brother. “I was pounding on your door while you were taking your shower. Sober now, huh?”
“I wasn’t drunk!” Marc denied.
Still heckling each other, they followed the Fishburne family out the door and into the sleek black rental van.
Last to leave, Charlene grabbed her camel-colored wool coat. She had green leggings on under a mid-length, slightly flared green skirt. She added a green felt hat just for extra fun.
A shiver of cold air at the front door threshold stopped her mid-step. No draft—it was her closest friend in Salem, her resident ghost, Jack.
Jack didn’t appear all the way as he warned, “Chasing after a pot o’ gold combined with too much green beer can be a deadly combination. Be careful driving home.”
Her lips twitched and she gave a slight nod just in case anybody was watching. She could never answer Jack unless they were alone. She was pretty sure all her guests were in the van and Minnie in the kitchen, which left Silva on the stairs. The cat meowed under Jack’s scrutiny. The two were old friends. Silva could see Jack, but not touch him, and he loved to tease her.
She fluttered her fingers and shut the door, walking down the porch stairs to where the shiny black van waited, her guests already inside. A year and a half ago, she’d bought this mansion at a steal with plans to create an elegant bed-and-breakfast . . . she had no idea that it was haunted by the previous owner, Dr. Jack Strathmore, tied to the property because he’d been murdered.
So much had changed in such a short amount of time. Like, she now believed in ghosts.
Charlene started the van. She hoped to buy her own if business remained steady, but for now, it suited her to rent on the occasion she needed something large.
“Everybody buckled in?” she called.
They chorused yes and she left her property, driving the main road that led to downtown Salem. Charlene pointed out the famous Hawthorne Hotel, telling them about the episode of Bewitched that had been filmed there. Next was the Waterfront Hotel by the harbor. She slowed as they passed the House of the Seven Gables, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the two touristy witch attractions, skipping the scary stories of ghosts often seen in the Old Burying Point cemetery. She wanted Mason to sleep tonight.
Charlene turned on Boston Street and followed her GPS to the two-story building with a parking lot to the side. It was almost full, but her reservation included a parking space as well as their own table. It didn’t hurt to pay a little extra to make her guests feel special.
“This is my first time here at the AOH for their famous Saint Paddy’s Day party,” she told Deana once they’d all disembarked. She locked the van with the fob and stepped toward the line of about twenty people handing over their tickets to get inside. Music leaked from the partially open windows downstairs.
“What does AOH stand for?” Ken asked.
“The Ancient Order of Hibernians—Irish folk,” Charlene answered. She’d practiced saying the long name in case someone asked. “They’ve been in Salem for over a hundred years.”
“I love the history of Salem,” Deana said, eyes bright.
Charlene turned to her guests as they moved forward in line. “My friend Kass Fortune says this event is known for the great music and you can’t beat the price for dinner and drinks.”
Deana clasped Mason’s mittened hand. At half-past four, the sun was hidden behind clouds and fog. Off-key singers danced their way down Boston Street, arms over shoulders. Charlene had never heard “Danny Boy” so, well . . . forlorn.
“Kind of tame after last night,” John said to Ken, who had stepped protectively between his family and the singers. “The pubs were packed.”
“Lots of chicks ready to parteee,” Marc said. “Not like the girls at home.” The brothers were in IT of some sort from Michigan and had picked Salem randomly off a map to visit. Charlene shook her head and smiled at the Prescotts. The Brookses were on their phones and not engaging with the other guests or each other.
Luckily, the line moved fast, and Charlene ushered her group to check in. “Private table for Charlene?”
“Dinner’s upstairs, but the bar and games are on the first floor here,” a man with a thick brogue said, winking at Mason.
“Is there a lepercon?” Mason dared to ask.
“Leprechaun,” Ken corrected automatically.
“Oh, aye,” the man said. “If you’re good, you can get a picture with him—he’s got a giant pot of gold.”
“Yes!” Mason pulled his mother forward. “I’ll try and make him my friend.”
Charlene shepherded her crew inside, then up the narrow flight of stairs to the second floor, looking for a single table that read Charlene’s.
There wasn’t one.
Embarrassed and disappointed, she scanned the large room packed with an outlandish crowd of people. They were smacking each other on the back, speaking in raised voices, and seemed half-tanked already.
She had to do something quick, as her gang was standing around with perplexed expressions. Marc and John rolled their eyes and whispered to each other. Most likely making plans to escape.
Tables were jammed together and stuffed in every corner, and her single had become three separate tables. Complaining was not going to make the situation any better, so it was time for plan B.
“Hey, guys. This isn’t quite what I expected, but we’re here, so let’s make the most of it.” Charlene set them up in groups and got everyone settled. She would have sat with the Fishburnes, but their table was an oval for three tucked against the wall. The Brookses and Prescotts sat together, which left her and the Wards at a table for five.
Even though her name was on the cardboard nameplate, a very attractive red-haired woman and a younger man with a similar shade of hair occupied two of the five seats. “I’m sorry, but this table was reserved,” Charlene said in a strained voice.
The woman, dressed head-to-toe in green, rose and fluttered her hands. “I’m the one who’s sorry. We’re short of tables and I spent half the day scrambling to fit everyone we’d sold tickets to.” Her blue eyes batted back tears. “I had to bring in card tables from home.” She pressed her fingers to her chest and held Charlene’s gaze. “Would it be all right if my son and I joined you? We won’t disturb you—it’s just that . . . well, I work for the AOH. I plan the party every year! This has never happened to me before.”
“Mom!” The young man cut her off with good-natured exasperation. “You’re babbling.” He held out his hand to shake. “I’m Aiden Best, and my mother is Shannon. We hope you don’t mind our intrusion?”
Charlene gestured to the Ward brothers. They shrugged, leaving the decision up to her. She smiled at Aiden, then Shannon, aware of how uncomfortable this was for the woman. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Charlene Morris. This is Marc and John Ward. Guests at my bed-and-breakfast.”
“Oh!” Shannon said. “I just love bed-and-breakfasts. They’re so quaint and charming compared to a large hotel chain.”
Charlene sat and scooted her chair close to the table. “I think so too.”
The Ward brothers said hello and Marc added, “Charlene’s is practically a mansion. Her happy hours are the best.”
Aiden tugged the top button of his forest-green oxford. “Maybe I should rent a room, huh, Mom?”
His mother gave him a disapproving purse of her lips, which he completely brushed off.
Feeling a little discord between them, Charlene changed the subject. “You work here at the AOH, Shannon?”
“I own an accounting business and they’re one of my clients.” Shannon sipped from her glass of lemonade. Aiden drank green beer.
Charlene looked to see how her guests were doing. The Fishburnes were laughing over something. Such a sweet family! The Brookses had put their phones away to converse with the Prescotts . . . progress. Their coats were on a long rack in the rear of the room. She preferred to keep hers over her chair.
With a sense of relief, she returned her attention to Shannon. “Accounting—that’s my least favorite part,” Charlene admitted. “My degree is in marketing.”
Aiden stood and spoke to the Ward brothers. “How about a shot of whiskey and a game of pool downstairs? I’ll buy the first round.”
The guys grinned and scrambled to their feet. Before Charlene could give Marc and John a reminder, Shannon said, “You lads can drink your weight in green beer at no extra charge—for anything else, it’s a cash bar.”
The three made their way toward the staircase, anxious to get away from the older people, Charlene imagined. Beer, games, and single ladies were a greater temptation. She’d been so intent on getting upstairs that she hadn’t even peeked at the main floor.
Shannon patted Charlene’s hand. “You’re sure it’s okay that we share a table with you? I doubt we’ll see much of my son. Aiden’s home on a small break from medical school and is only here for the band.”
Aiden was a smooth, well-spoken young man. Being a doctor might suit him.
“It’s absolutely fine.” Charlene meant it. “I just need to check on my guests occasionally to make sure they’re having a good time.” She waved toward the Fishburne table, where Mason was drumming his heels on the chair leg. “I promised my youngest guest I’d help him look for a leprechaun.”
Shannon laughed, her cheeks rosy. “Take him downstairs, opposite the pool table. We’ve got a photo booth set up with Gil dressed to the nines. The boy’s family will want pictures, trust me.”
“He’s been our lucky leprechaun for thirty years. I hesitate to tell you that he’s close to my age, but you’ll never guess because he’s hidden under layers of makeup.”
Her brow rose, intrigued.
Shannon nodded. “Wait till you see him. He’s a favorite attraction and much nicer than he looks.”
Charlene was starting to like this woman. “I feel like I’m deserting you if I take Mason downstairs.”
“Go! I’ve lived in Salem all my life. I know most of the people here. I’ll get us drinks while you take pictures with the leprechaun.”
“You don’t have to do that!”
“It’s no problem.” Shannon scrunched her nose. “I did mess up your reservation.”
“Well, thank you. I’m driving, so something without alcohol.” Charlene didn’t really want the green dye either, but figured she’d go along with it in the Saint Paddy’s Day spirit.
“I’m a tea drinker myself. Should I get you one too?”
“That would be great.” Charlene leaned close to Shannon, who smelled like rose water. “But I have to confess that my drink of choice would be wine. Flint’s Vineyard supplies my house wines at the B and B.”
Shannon’s giggle should have been strange from a woman ten years older than herself, but she liked it just the same. Charlene had a hunch that they could be good friends. “I have a martini every night.”
“Cheers to that! Guess it’s leprechaun time.” Charlene left the table, accidentally bumping into a few people as she struggled to reach the Fishburnes. “I’m so sorry that we aren’t all together,” she said when she arrived at the oval table.
Ken and Deana put her at ease. “It’s all right,” Deana said after Charlene explained the mix-up. “It’s very festive! Shamrocks everywhere.” She lifted her glass of green beer and Ken did too. Mason raised his glass of green lemonade.
“So, Mason,” Charlene said, her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I heard there’s a real leprechaun downstairs. Should we go find him?”
His eyes widened with excitement. “Yes!”
“Ken, Deana, want to come along?”
“Wouldn’t miss it!” his mother said.
“Dad. We need to Google how to catch a lepercon!” Mason used his legs to push his metal folding chair backward.
Deana smacked her palm to her forehead. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
“Magical creatures probably aren’t on Google,” Ken said, thinking quick on his feet. As an elementary school teacher, he was no doubt used to it. “Let’s go!”
Charlene led the way to the staircase, leaving behind the room decorated with green shamrocks, gold streamers, and the tantalizing smell of savory corned beef. Shannon waved to her from the refreshment table.
If upstairs had been festive, downstairs was like landing in a bad eighties movie. Neon orange, bright green, and fluorescent yellow flashed from a disco ball in the center of the ceiling. Bagpipes blared from a small corner stage near the bar. There was a pool table and dartboards. A lot of the kids were pretending to be Irish dancers with crossed arms and fancy footwork.
But Mason didn’t care about that as he tugged her forward and pointed. “Look, Charlene! It’s the leprechaun!”
Charlene’s eyes adjusted to the lights and she blinked again. Sure enough, there was a black pot the height of a dining table, filled with gold coins. On top of the coins was a hunched figure in green and black.
The leprechaun was terrifying with wrinkled skin, a long orange beard, and a green hat with a gold buckle. Minnie had been right, but she hadn’t mentioned a thing about being scary. She shivered, even knowing that it was a costume.
Black fingernails attached to a gnarled hand lifted the coins and let them fall through his fingers back to the pile. The jingle sounded less authentic than gold, but it was still an impressive sight.
“Want your picture, Mason?” Charlene swallowed her distaste and stepped forward.
Mason hesitated. “Is he gonna eat us?”
“Leprechauns don’t eat people. He’s just protecting his gold.” Charlene winked at Deana and Ken. “Right?”
“Right.” Deana grinned. “My birthday is March seventeenth, so I definitely want a photo. Charlene, can you get us all?”
The leprechaun saw them coming and revealed rotted teeth. Fake, but well done. As if sensing Mason’s fear, he tossed the boy a chocolate coin.
It was all smiles after that.
Charlene captured photos of the Fishburne family with Gil the Leprechaun, sure to be lifelong memories.
Mason gave up trying to make the leprechaun his friend in exchange for a pocketful of gold chocolates. His disappointment that the gold wasn’t real didn’t keep the boy down. Charlene was impressed by his resilience.
John, Marc, and Aiden wandered over to Charlene and the Fishburnes. Aiden raised his hand to the leprechaun. “Hey, Gil. How’s it going, man? You need a beer or anything?”
The leprechaun pointed to the full stein beside him. “I’m good, thanks.”
Aiden gestured for them all to come closer. “All right, everybody. Gather together so I can get a picture of you all with our ‘leprechaun’ and his pot of gold.”
Mason high-fived his dad and the Wards bumped each other’s shoulder. Charlene handed Aiden her phone. Despite the rocky beginning, everybody was having a good time. She’d put the photo on her website to entice new guests. “Thank you!”
After the pictures were taken, Charlene glanced at her phone screen and realized it was after five. She nudged Aiden. “Should we eat?”
Aiden nodded, clapped his hands, and raised his voice. “Let’s get some chow. Once the corned beef is gone, there’s no more till next year.”
That got everyone’s attention and the group weaved their way through the dancers. They reached the staircase and climbed up to the second floor, two by two.
“It smells so good,” Charlene told Aiden next to her. She couldn’t pinpoint the exact scent. Cumin or coriander?
“The secret is in the pickling spice.” He grinned with pride. “Mom’s been planning this event since last Saint Patrick’s Day. She loves it.” He patted his chest. “Most people can claim a wee bit of Irish in their DNA, but our family can trace its roots directly to Dublin.”
Overhearing their conversation, Deana asked, “How long have you been in Salem?”
“The O’Briens have been here more than a hundred years. My uncle still lives in the family home.”
“That’s quite something these days.” Ken acknowledged Aiden’s remark as they all reached the second floor. “Most families drift apart once they’re adults and have children of their own.”
Aiden shrugged, a smile flickering around his mouth that didn’t reach his bright blue eyes. “That’s what I hear.” He flung his arm to the left. “Food line is this way. Drinks on the right.”
They all split off and Charlene followed John and Marc to the buffet line while the Fishburnes took Mason to wash the chocolate from his hands. He held tight to the crumpled gold foil wrapper.
Charlene filled a plate of tender corned beef, red potatoes, and buttery cabbage and returned to her seat next to Shannon. On the way, she p. . .
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