Spring Breakby Barbara A. Steiner
Angie Hendrix and her friends plan the best spring break ever--until they discover that their rented beach house holds a deadly secret. From the author of the bestselling Dreamstalker comes a gripping new thriller--just in time for spring break. See more details below
Angie Hendrix and her friends plan the best spring break ever--until they discover that their rented beach house holds a deadly secret. From the author of the bestselling Dreamstalker comes a gripping new thriller--just in time for spring break.
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By Barbara Steiner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Barbara Steiner
All rights reserved.
"We've escaped!" Angie Hendrix jumped into the backseat of her best friend Kerry Cole's old Jeep and sighed deeply. "I can't believe it."
"No more teachers, no more books." Paula Lantz sang the popular jingle as they headed south out of some unreal Saturday morning Houston traffic. She leaned her head of mahogany-red curls into Angie's shoulder and whispered, "Change seats with me at the next light."
Angie looked at Paula, shrugged, and announced, "Change seats with me, Paula. I want the best view. I want to be sure that we're really getting out of the city for a week."
At the next stoplight, both girls snapped off their seat belts and made a quick exchange of seating.
Paula squeezed Angie's arm and sang again. "In the meantime, in between time ... That's what we're in. In between time. I don't want to hear one word this week about s-c-h-o-o-l."
"Don't you even want to talk about what we'll do this summer?" Kerry looked at Paula and Angie in the rearview mirror. "Let's get jobs in Estes Park. Colorado in the summer is heaven on earth."
"You can't do that, Kerry." Kerry's boyfriend spoke for the first time. Chad Grindle wasn't exactly a morning person. He wasn't even an afternoon person. He came alive for evening football games and after-school basketball practice. Angie had never known a guy with so much athletic ability.
He certainly was the opposite of Angie's brother, Justin. Justin sat on the other side of Paula with his nose in a book about identifying birds on the coast of Texas.
Chad continued to stare at Kerry and protest. "I already have a job in Houston. You can't go off someplace for the summer."
"You could get a job in Colorado, too." Kerry tapped her fingers as they waited for yet another red light.
"I couldn't get a vet job. You know I have to work at the veterinary clinic for a couple of summers in order to get into vet school. They want you to know what being a vet is really like. They want to know you're serious."
At the sound of Chad's voice, Brandy, his chocolate Labrador retriever, jumped up from where he was tucked into the front-seat floor and barked.
Angie glanced at Justin. How could he read with all this commotion and excitement about going to the beach for spring break? He was totally inhuman.
"Watch it, Paula. The real reason I wanted to change places is that Justin gets carsick when he tries to read and ride in the backseat."
"You're kidding." Paula made a funny face and leaned away from Justin. "I thought only little kids did that."
"Justin is your problem, Angie. You're the one who had to have a chaperon in order to go with us. You'll have to clean up the mess." Kerry laughed and peeled onto Highway 45 leading to Galveston.
Angie grinned and kept her mouth shut. Kerry was right. She'd had a devil of a time talking her parents into letting her take this trip.
Going to the beach for spring break was Kerry's idea. She could talk her parents into anything. Both her mother and dad thought Kerry Cole could do no wrong, but secretly, Angie thought they both were afraid of Kerry. Well, maybe not afraid, but in awe of her.
Who wouldn't be? Angie stared at the back of Kerry's perfect long, thick blonde hair that curled just the right amount. She was in awe of Kerry, too. Even though they had been best friends forever, Angie never got over looking at Kerry and thinking how beautiful she was. How smart. How perfect. And to top it off, how mechanical.
Kerry, herself—well, maybe her father had helped her a little—had worked on the engine of the Jeep. She and her dad had cleaned up and painted the body until it looked brand-new. They'd hired someone to have the interior restored, but Kerry had earned the money to pay for it working in her dad's body shop.
Angie sighed audibly. Some people have multiple talents and gifts. Angie had Justin.
"Does your brother do anything but read?" Paula asked, interrupting Angie's thinking.
"Why don't you ask me?" Justin said, still looking at his book. "I'm within hearing distance of you."
"Oh, he talks, he walks, he —"
Angie interrupted Paula. "He writes in his journal. And in those notebooks. He has about a million notebooks by now. He plans to write the great American novel."
Everyone continued to joke and talk. The more they laughed, the more Brandy barked. Chad placed his hand on the lab's head to quiet him.
"Can I change my mind, guys?" Justin said. "If it's going to be this noisy all week, I'll lose it."
"Poor baby." Angie stopped laughing. She had argued and argued, but her mother said no way was she going out of town for a week with three high school kids. Did dear old Mom think Justin was an adult because he was eighteen and graduating in May? Technically, he was still a "high school kid." Little did her mom know that once they got to the island, Justin would have his nose in a book all the time. He'd no more watch after Angie than Brandy would.
She griped and complained to Kerry and Paula, but they didn't care if Justin went. In fact, for some odd reason, Paula was happy Justin was going.
The highway grew more and more congested. As they crossed the bay to the island, the bridge turned into a parking lot. It took nearly an hour to get over to the island resort.
"Think we'll find a place to stay?" Chad asked, voicing the concern all of them felt as they sat and watched gulls soar and dive for scraps of bread people tossed them from the cars.
"Sure. We'll find something," Angie said.
She didn't care where they stayed, as long as they were away from school and on the beach.
"I love you, Kerry," Angie announced when the car finally started to move after one long gridlock. "This is the best idea you ever had, and you've had some beauts."
"Ditto," Paula said. "Did you hear about the blondes on spring break who saw a sign saying 'Disney World, left.' They were disappointed but turned around and went back home."
Kerry, used to Paula's "dumb blonde" jokes, swung the loaded car to the right and headed out Road 3005.
Justin groaned. "I'm not going to be able to handle this, Angie. Are all your friends this intelligent?"
Their laughing and joking lasted only a short time longer. Then reality set in. By late afternoon, they had passed Jamaica Beach, stopping at every place they could find that looked as if it might have rooms for rent, but there were no vacancies. They stopped at three real estate offices, asking about houses for the week, cabins, shacks, closets. No luck. Every teen in Texas must already be in Galveston. Colleges were having spring break, too.
"Why didn't anyone make a reservation?" Chad asked. "We've known we were coming for two weeks."
"I didn't think it would be this crowded." Kerry leaned on the Jeep's fender and twisted a curl around her finger. They were now at the end of the island.
"Okay, people, shape up." Justin took charge. "Let's go in that little store across the street and get some supplies. We did bring camping gear." He started in the direction of a small general store, probably the last place to stock up before they reached the more isolated beaches.
"I hate camping!" Kerry stood up straight and put her hands on her hips.
"Me, too." Paula started after Justin. "But it looks as if we have no choice."
Chad whistled for Brandy, who'd been so glad to get out of the car that he'd run away up the block, sniffing every bush.
The woman in the store was shaking her head as Angie and Paula stepped inside. "People are probably getting good money for closets and garages by now," she said in answer to Justin's query about housing.
"You can't think of anything?" Angie begged.
"Well, I do know of one place." She rubbed her chin as if it helped her think. "Eldon Minor has been working on the old Jamison place for almost a year now. It might be in good enough shape to live in. If you aren't particular."
"We're not choosy at all," Paula said.
"I'll call him for you. He lives right down the road, when he's home." The pleasant-faced woman picked up a phone and dialed. She waited for it to ring. "There is one problem with the house."
"That figures." Angie felt her hopes slide. "There would be a catch. What is it?"
"Some people around here say the place is haunted."
The five friends looked at each other, and for once, no one could think of anything to sayCHAPTER 2
Angie finally broke the silence. "Haunted? You have to be kidding."
"There're no such things as ghosts—are there?" Kerry tried to laugh, but she moved closer to Chad.
"Oooohhhhh." Chad raised his arms in a menacing motion toward Kerry. Then he grabbed and hugged her. "If there are, I'll protect you."
"Hey, guys, renting the house might be fun." Justin grinned. "I can write some ghost stories when I get home."
"You do that, Edgar Allan." Paula shook her head. "Maybe we can find you some ravens out there while we're at it."
"There is a bird sanctuary near the old house," the woman behind the counter said, ignoring Paula's reference to Poe's famous poem. "The place is fairly isolated—for beach property. Never saw so much development as we've had in the last few years. Despite the hurricanes, people seem to want to live out here."
"You aren't expecting a hurricane this week, are you?" Paula was through being funny for a few minutes.
"Oh, no, too early in the season. But I think rain is predicted by the end of the week." She started bagging their purchases.
"Then we'd better not worry about ghosts," Chad decided. "A roof over our heads is our number- one priority."
"Where did you say we can we find this Mr. Minor?" Kerry asked.
"Let me call him back. The line was busy, so he's there.... Eldon? Myra Adams here. Some young people want to rent the old Jamison place. You made much progress at getting it livable?" She listened and nodded.
"She looks positive," Angie whispered to Kerry. "Let's go talk him into renting. Surely he'd like the money if he's fixing it up."
Mrs. Adams smiled and nodded. "He said yes if you aren't too particular. I told him you weren't. I didn't say desperate. The old fool will try for more money."
"Is the electricity on?" Kerry asked.
"Sure. Everything works out there, but if I were you, I'd take some drinking water with you. Pipes are probably old and haven't been used much."
Justin lifted four gallons of spring water onto the counter and paid for it. Chad and Paula gathered their groceries, while Kerry got directions to Eldon Minor's house.
"Think we're doing the right thing?" Kerry asked Angie.
"Of course. And besides, what choice have we got? We're lucky to find anything." Angie slid into the car, hoping for the best.
She wasn't quite so sure when she met Eldon Minor. He was a creepy little old man, all hunched over, with a permanent crick in his neck. He had only a fringe of hair left around his neck and ears. His face was long and thin, and his ears must have belonged to someone else at one time. They were much too big for his own face. His eyes were a faded blue, but they had a little sparkle left. He smiled a crooked smile at them.
"Sure you want to stay out there?" he asked again. "Pretty far from town, and no near neighbors."
"Then no one will complain if we play loud music or stay up late partying, will they?" Chad laughed.
"I may be out there working a lot if the weather holds," Eldon warned. "I don't mind a little noise, though. Just so you don't disturb my birds."
"Your birds?" Paula raised her eyebrows and looked at Angie.
"Well, they ain't mine, but I like 'em to feel comfortable living in that marsh behind my property. Might be some migrants from Mexico this time of year, too. You like birds?"
The five looked at each other. Did they have to answer that they liked birds to get the rental? "I do," Justin answered for them. "Are there a lot of varieties?"
"You'll be surprised." Eldon gathered some tools and prepared to leave.
"Any ravens?" Paula asked, avoiding Justin's eyes.
"Well, might be, but more likely waders." He headed for his truck, motioning for them to follow, but then stopped and stared at the Jeep. "Nice car."
"Thanks." Kerry shrugged and hopped into the driver's seat. She put the Jeep into gear and crept along behind Eldon Minor.
"Waders?" Angie asked, picturing birds with rubber boots on, carefully stepping into the surf.
"He's the birdman of Galveston," Paula quipped. "Do we like birds? I'm sure."
"I have nothing against birds," Kerry said with a grin.
Kerry had no trouble following all the bends and turns of the beach road, since Eldon drove about twenty miles per hour.
"Jeez, look at that," Angie said, hanging out the side window.
The first view of the old Jamison house in the fading light made her think it deserved a ghost. Why had someone built such a huge mansion this far out of town and so near the ocean?
"I'd be disappointed if it wasn't haunted." Justin stood up for a better look.
"You're good with words, Justin," Paula said. "Describe this place."
"Well, it's three-story, kind of square, except for the trimmed-off corners on either side of the roof. I'll bet there's a big room behind that dormer in front with the rounded window and the deck."
"That's not a deck, it's a balcony. There are balconies all across the front of each story," Angie added, not able to keep her mouth shut. "What fun to sit out there and look at the ocean."
"Maybe it was once a small hotel," Chad said.
"Or a sanatorium." Kerry pulled in beside Eldon Minor's truck at the front of the house.
"Oh, not a hospital, please," Paula said. "Not with all that—that fancy trim."
Any paint left on the house was peeling badly, leaving a silvery sheen where winds off the ocean had weathered the wood.
"The house is lonely," Angie said, without meaning to.
"Houses don't have feelings, Angie." Justin stepped out of the car behind her. "That's your imagination."
"Did I imagine that a curtain moved just now—on the second floor, to the left?" Kerry clutched Chad's arm.
"Surely you did. No one is supposed to be out here." Chad called to Eldon Minor, who had finally gotten out of his truck, "Anyone living here now, Mr. Minor?"
"Nope. Not for years. That's why I bought it cheap. All the furnishings came with it, too, but they're old and not very fancy.
"Do you think the house is haunted?" Paula asked.
"He-he-he." The man's laugh turned into a wheeze, then a coughing fit. "That what Myra told you?" he said finally.
"You don't charge extra for ghosts, do you?" Paula said, heading for the trunk to get her suitcase.
They struck a deal with Eldon Minor, a lot less money than they'd thought they'd have to pay for a place to sleep, which pleased them. He took them inside and showed them the fuse box, the switch to the water pump, everything he thought they'd need to know in an emergency.
Angie let the guys and Kerry take the technical tour. She hung back and started upstairs. She looked at the central staircase that split on the first landing, sending a separate set of steps to the right and left. The stairs were covered with old carpet, richly patterned in purple and blue, now faded in the center to lavender and heather. Turkish or Persian, surely expensive. Who would haunt a house so richly elegant at one time? And why was the house abandoned? Who left so abruptly, leaving all their furniture, even photographs and paintings, behind?
The biggest question, though, was, did she really want to go up to the second floor by herself?
When Angie reached the first landing, a rush of shivers slid up and down her body and her legs froze in place. She clutched the railing and waited for the chill to go away.
Slowly she was able to back down, never taking her eyes off the closed doors to the rooms she could see. Had there been someone—or something —in one of the front rooms watching them arrive? Was it still there?
Angie was sure she was just being silly, but she'd wait until they all went up together to explore. That was for sure. Shaking off the spell she was under, she turned and flew back to the sound of voices in the kitchen wing of the house.
She took Paula's arm. "Let's all sleep in one room—the girls, I mean."
"Suits me." Paula looked at Angie. "You look as if you've already seen the ghost. Did you go upstairs by yourself?"
"No, I couldn't. I went part way and backed out. The place is just so big. I mean, we could have brought half the junior class with us."
Excerpted from Spring Break by Barbara Steiner. Copyright © 1996 Barbara Steiner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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