The Indialantic by the Sea hotel has a hundred-year-old history on beautiful Melbourne Beach, Florida, and more than a few guests seem to have been there from the start. When Liz Holt returns home after an intense decade in New York, she's happy to be surrounded by the eccentric clientele and loving relatives that populate her family-run inn, and doubly pleased to see the business is staying afloat thanks to its vibrant shopping emporium and a few very wealthy patrons.
But that patronage decreases by one when a filthy rich guest is discovered dead in her oceanfront suite. Maybe this is simply a jewel theft gone wrong, but maybe someone-or many people-wanted the hotel's prosperous guest dead. Only one thing is sure: there's a killer at the Indialantic, and if Liz lets herself be distracted-by her troubled past or the tempting man who seems eager to dredge it back up-the next reservation she'll book could be at the cemetery . . .
Praise for Kathleen Bridge
"A delightful sneak peek into life in the Hamptons, with intricate plotting and a likeable, down-to-earth protagonist. A promising start to a promising series."
-Suspense Magazine on Better Homes and Corpses
"The descriptions of furniture and other antiques, as well as juicy tidbits on the Hamptons, make for entertaining reading for those who enjoy both antiques and lifestyles of the rich and famous."
-Booklist on Better Homes and Corpses
"Ghostal Living is a marvelously entertaining tale of revenge, murder, quirky characters-and disappearing books! With a clever protagonist, wonderful details of life in the Hamptons, and plot twists on top of plot twists, Kathleen Bridge will have mystery readers clamoring for more."
-Kate Carlisle, New York Times bestselling author
About the Author
Lauren Ezzo is a Chicago-based audiobook narrator and commercial voice talent. A Michigan native and Hope College alumna, she has recorded over 100 titles and garnered several AudioFile Earphones Awards for her narrations.
Read an Excerpt
"I curse you, Barnabas! May your undeath haunt you through all eternity. I'd rather die a mortal than live year to year preying on innocent blood, watching those I love buried in hallowed ground. You will not take me with you!" She jerked the knife toward her chest and fell to the floor.
After a few beats, Aunt Amelia opened her eyes, cracked a smile, then pulled herself up with the help of a sturdy piano bench. For a minute, Liz feared her eighty-year-old great-aunt had fractured a hip.
"Bravo! Bravo!" Barnacle Bob called out.
Liz applauded. Her great-aunt performed a deep bow, the tip of her bright red I Dream of Jeannie ponytail grazing the threadbare Persian carpet. When she stood, her sea-green eyes gleamed under black liner that extended from the corners of her eyes in true sixties style. "Enough theatrics," Aunt Amelia said, adding a schoolgirl giggle. "I must talk to Pierre about dinner." She wrapped a neon-pink scarf around her neck, kissed Liz on the top of the head, and exited the music room.
Amelia Eden Holt, Liz's favorite — and only — greataunt, had starred in three seasons of the 1960s vampire-themed television soap drama, Dark Shadows. "Starred" might be an exaggeration, because she'd only had a small part as a Collinwood maid. However, that was what Liz loved about her paternal great-aunt; she was bigger than life and more colorful than the tail feathers on Barnacle Bob, Aunt Amelia's thirty-year-old macaw.
"Drama queen ... Showboater ... Diva," Bob squawked.
Her great-aunt adored Barnacle Bob. Liz just hoped Aunt Amelia never heard the parrot's two-faced comments. "Hush, BB, that's not nice." Liz took a seat next to his cage, inhaling Aunt Amelia's signature scent, L'air du Temps.
When Liz was five, after her mother passed away, she and her father came to live with Aunt Amelia in the old family-run hotel. At one time, the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel was Melbourne Beach, Florida's premier ocean-front resort. Unfortunately, the monikers "premier" and "resort" no longer held true. The Indialantic sat on a barrier island sandwiched between the Indian River Lagoon to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Last fall, Liz's father invested a sizable percentage of his attorney fees from winning a class-action lawsuit into the coffers of the hotel. With Aunt Amelia's and the staff's hard work and dedication, along with the rent coming in from the new shops, the establishment was finally inching its way toward the black, affording them one more year to stave off the bank and real-estate predators.
Aunt Amelia insisted on adding to the old hotel's name by calling it the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel and Emporium. The name was a little long-winded for Liz's taste, but no one dared cross Aunt Amelia.
In 1945, a fire had destroyed the entire midsection of the Indialantic Hotel, and the north and south parts of the resort had been made into two separate buildings, with a large courtyard in between. The south building was the hotel, and the north building housed the emporium shops. The shops consisted of Home Arts by the Sea, a women's lifestyle collective; Deli-cacies by the Sea, a gourmet deli and coffee shop; Sirens by the Sea, a women's clothing boutique; and Gold Coast by the Sea, a rare coin and estate jewelry shop. It had been Liz's idea to have her best friend from childhood, Kate Fields, leave her booth at a local antique mall and rent out the remaining space at the emporium. Kate called her used book and vintage shop Books & Browsery by the Sea.
Before she'd left Melbourne Beach for Manhattan, Liz had considered the hotel too old-school and boringly quaint. Now, after six weeks of being home, she felt cocooned, cozy, and safe when she stepped inside. It was a far different feeling than she'd had in the city, turning the three dead bolts on her SoHo loft's door. Life was simple on the island, and Liz embraced the laid-back beach-town vibe, something she hadn't been able to do at eighteen when she was young and beyond restless.
The upper level of the Indialantic had large guest suites that had become a refuge for Aunt Amelia's occasional "strays," usually senior citizens with small Social Security checks and small pets, "no bigger than a bread basket." Although Liz knew Aunt Amelia made exceptions to her own rule, as evidenced by Killer, the Great Dane who looked longingly at Liz's lap.
"Sorry, pup, don't even think about it. I'll have to spend the next few weeks at the chiropractor." Her father called the upper floor of the hotel Aunt Amelia's Animalia, and chose to live in an apartment next to his law office on the first floor. Liz lived in the Indialantic's former beach pavilion, now turned beach house. It was a nice distance away from the Indialantic and a quiet place to work on her writing career, or more accurately, her non-writing career.
Liz glanced around the music room and reminisced about past years with her father at the piano and Aunt Amelia singing, dancing, or replaying one of her scenes from Dark Shadows or a myriad of other midcentury television shows in which she'd had small roles. Aunt Amelia had been considered a character actress — and she was quite a character. While some children had Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon read to them before falling asleep, Aunt Amelia would tell Liz about the evil witch Angelique and the beautiful Josette who fought each other for the handsome vampire Barnabas's love. "Barnabas didn't want to be a vampire, Lizzy dear, but he had no choice. Sometimes you just have to face who you are and make the best of it ..." Liz smiled at the memory and patted Killer's large noggin. She'd been loafing too long. She thought about all the things she had to do to get ready for the Indialantic Spring Fling by the Sea. It had been Liz's idea to have the event on Saturday in the hopes of drumming up more business for the emporium shops. Although Melbourne Beach was, as advertised, a casual, beachy surfer's paradise, Liz knew there were celebrities hiding in nearby ocean-front homes with tons of disposable income who might enjoy an off-the-grid dining and shopping experience.
If Liz was honest with herself, she'd been using her role as her father's and great-aunt's assistant as an excuse not to write. It was amazing that her agent hadn't given up on her, especially after the scandal that had rocked the literati and her life as she knew it.
She got up, walked to the window, and looked out at the Atlantic. The hotel was perched on a sandy cliff, east of State Road A1A. The hotel's property also encompassed the west side of the highway, with its own dock on the Indian River Lagoon. Lost in thoughts of the past, Liz startled when she heard Barnacle Bob squawk, "Places to go. People to see."
Liz moved over to the parrot's cage. "The only place you're going is dreamland. Catch ya later, BB. Time for my dinner. Try to behave yourself."
"Okay, Scarface! Keep it real."
She gave it back to him. "Whatever you say, bald-as-a-billiard-ball Barnacle Bob."
The parrot was missing all the feathers on the top of his head. What remained were little pinholes, like a child's connect-the-dots puzzle.
Liz traced the scar on her right cheek. She'd had two operations with a plastic surgeon in Manhattan, and a week ago, the third procedure with a surgeon in Vero Beach. Each skin graft was an improvement, but she was told that a scar would always remain and that a fourth operation would have to wait for at least another year. She now thought of her life in terms of before-the-scar and after-the-scar. Surprisingly enough, life after-the-scar was the better of the two. Her before-the-scar life had included a tempestuous relationship with Travis Osterman, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The McAvoy Brothers, a five-hundred-page novel following three generations of brothers and their triumphs and sorrows through countless women and wars.
She'd left Melbourne Beach when she was eighteen and spent six years at Columbia University and then two years writing her novel, Let the Wind Roar, while modeling and bartending. After her novel won the PEN/Faulkner award, it flew to the top of the New York Times best sellers list. Liz spent the following year living every author's dream. Then she met Travis and her dream turned into a nightmare, due to a scandal and a defamation-of-character lawsuit, not to mention a night of terror she would never forget. Liz had been acquitted of any wrongdoing in the lawsuit, but it was too late. She was branded a pariah and ostracized from every Manhattan literary salon. Liz had returned home to Melbourne Beach, her wings clipped by her father, and rightly so. It was a little embarrassing for a twenty-eight-year-old, but she'd welcomed his broad shoulders to cry on and she loved that her father never questioned her choices, saying instead, "If it wasn't for the contrast in your life, you'd never have known what you truly wanted."
Since Liz had returned to Florida, though, everyone at the Indialantic had been walking on eggshells around her, including Aunt Amelia. Of course, the whole sordid affair had been plastered all over the tabloids, but not even the tabloids knew what had really happened. Only her father, Betty, and her best friend, Kate, knew the entire story. Liz had given Aunt Amelia a kinder, gentler version of the events that had gone down.
Barnacle Bob spun around in his Mercedes of a birdcage and faced the wall, aiming his colorful tail-feathered rear end at Liz. Aunt Amelia had found him after a hurricane at a local pet rescue facility. She'd had her pick of other pets needing a good home, but she always went for the less fortunate, in this case Barnacle Bob. Owing to his colorful language, Barnacle Bob's former owner had probably been a crusty old sailor or a Florida fisherman, no doubt male. Barnacle Bob had a soft spot for Aunt Amelia and he never said anything disparaging to her face, only behind her back. He was less kind to the rest of humanity.
Liz covered the parrot's cage. "Early to bed, early to rise, BB."
As she and Killer walked out of the music room, it was hard to ignore the muffled expletives spewing from Barnacle Bob's foul beak.
Sunday dinner at the Indialantic was the only time the guests, help, and emporium shopkeepers all ate together in the huge hotel dining room. However, today was an exception because it was Thursday. Aunt Amelia had asked Pierre to whip up a special thank-you feast to kick off the first annual Indialantic Spring Fling by the Sea, scheduled for Saturday at the emporium.
The hotel's original dining room had been double the size that it was now, but it was still big enough to seat sixty people. There were fifteen square tables topped with white Irish linen tablecloths dating from the hotel's opening, personally ironed by Aunt Amelia. Liz's great-aunt found ironing a therapeutic distraction. Liz didn't even own an iron. She looked guiltily at her white cotton blouse that her great-aunt had insisted on pressing. In the past, all Liz had had to do was leave a bag of laundry outside her Soho loft door on Monday morning and it would be picked up by Mr. Kim, the owner of the dry cleaner at the end of her block, then delivered back by Monday evening.
Three of the Indialantic's hotel guests sat together at a table by a huge window overlooking the Olympic-sized pool — the same pool where old-time film star and synchronized swimmer Esther Williams had performed one of her water ballet scenes for an MGM movie. Captain Clyde B. Netherton, the septuagenarian owner of Killer, looked dapper as usual, his gold-handled walking cane leaning against his chair. The captain was retired from the Coast Guard and skippered the sightseeing and nature-watch cruiser Queen of the Seas from the Indialantic's river dock every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He'd been staying at the Indialantic for the past two months. Also at the table was eighty-three-year-old Betty Lawson. Betty had lived at the Indialantic for over twenty years and was one of the reasons Liz had become a writer. In the sixties and seventies, Betty worked for the Stratemeyer Syndicate as a ghostwriter for five Nancy Drew mysteries under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. Even under duress, she never revealed exactly which books she'd written. Betty had also penned a slew of other teenage mysteries for girls and boys under different nom de plumes. Sitting next to Betty was a new guest whom Liz had never met, but she'd seen her face plastered all over the society pages or attending local A-list events in the Melbourne Beach and Vero Beach area. Regina Harrington-Worth came from of one of the area's most prestigious families. Her grandfather Percival Harrington I, built his oceanfront estate, Castlemara, a few miles south of the Indialantic. Later, Regina's father, Percival II, commissioned a salvaging company to look for sunken treasure in the remains of the Spanish ship San Carlos — and scored big-time. The rest was Treasure Coast history.
Regina Harrington-Worth wasn't one of Aunt Amelia's typical strays. In fact, she looked and dressed like she belonged in West Palm Beach, or on a yacht moored at Fisher Island, where the residents had the highest per-capita income in the United States. She appeared to be in her early fifties, perhaps a little older, in no small part due to Botox and fillers. Her bottom lip was three times the size of the top. Near the woman's feet was a rhinestone-studded pet carrier. Two ice-blue eyes looked out from behind the mesh window. Liz couldn't tell what species the animal was, but she knew one thing: bringing a pet into the hotel dining room was a definite no-no in Aunt Amelia's book.
Everyone had served themselves from the twenty-foot buffet against the stucco wall. Pierre Montague, the hotel's live-in chef, who had his own suite of rooms on the second floor, stood in the doorway to the kitchen surveying the scene. He looked so much older than he had ten years ago. When her father and Aunt Amelia made the trip to Manhattan to visit her, she'd invited Pierre, but he refused to fly, saying, "Who would make the meals, Lizzy Bear?" He was right: Her father and Aunt Amelia could barely boil an egg. Liz was the only other cook in the family. When Liz was small, she called Pierre "Grand-Pierre," a play on the French name Grand-Pere, which translates to "grandfather," because that was how she thought of him. Like Betty, Pierre was family.
Pierre winked at Liz, and she pointed to her full plate, giving him a thumbs-up. At least he hadn't lost the mischievous twinkle in his pale gray eyes. His furry white caterpillar eyebrows matched an unruly mustache whose tips were waxed and curled each morning in true Hercule Poirot style.
Liz filled her Baccarat crystal glass with water and a floating lemon slice from the pitcher in the center of the table. The lemons were plucked from the Indialantic's own trees. At her table were her father and best friend, Kate Fields. Barnacle Bob called her "Crazy for Cocoa Puffs Kate," and for once, the parrot wasn't too far off with his 1960s advertising jingle. Kate was the girl at school who did anything on a dare, a fantastic athlete, competing in Ironman competitions and skydiving events, she was also passionate about saving the environment. In her emporium shop she had a sign: Upcycled and Better Than New. You could see the "crazy" side of Kate in the way she repurposed and displayed her vintage and antique items, changing the shop around daily in one wacky way or another. Also, just this side of crazy, was the fact that Kate talked to her books like people talked to their plants.
Kate wore a fluorescent yellow tank top over bicycle shorts, her long, light brown hair was pulled up in a sleek ponytail.
"Elizabeth Holt, do you think you could pile any more food on your plate?" Kate was a quasi-vegetarian, occasionally eating fish and poultry, never red meat.
Liz was on her second course. Her first course had consisted of mini crab cakes with a mustard remoulade and creamy seafood chowder. She pushed her twice-baked Brie-and-chive potato up against a large slab of medium-rare prime rib smothered in Pierre's famous horseradish sauce. "Now I have room." She tucked a rogue strand of strawberry-blonde hair behind her ear and took a bite of the potato. "Oh boy, did I miss Pierre's cooking when I lived in New York."
"You're as good of a chef as Pierre," Kate said. "Isn't she, Uncle Fenton?"
Liz's father wasn't Kate's real uncle, but the ties were just as strong.
Excerpted from "Death by the Sea"
Copyright © 2018 Kathleen Bridge.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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