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Holly Davis never imagined having a haunted bed and breakfast would be the secret to her success—or that a secret might leave her B&B DOA . . .
After the syndicated TV show Inquiring Minds airs footage of their resident ghost at Holly Grove, a converted antebellum plantation house, it seems as if half the state of Louisiana wants to book a room. There’s only one small problem: the ghost of her not-so-dearly-departed husband Burl has . . . departed. For the sake of business, Holly’s willing to keep up the pretense of still being haunted. But after an outspoken debunker challenges the show’s credibility, the TV crew returns to Holly Grove to prove the ghost is real.
Following a disastrous séance, Holly is sure she’ll be exposed as a charlatan. Surprisingly, the debunker suddenly becomes a believer—after he’s pushed off the widow’s walk to his death and rises as a ghost. Now his inquiring mind wants to know: who murdered him? When he asks for Holly’s help, she can’t say no. But this time it’s her turn to watch her step, because if the killer gets spooked, the next ghost haunting the B&B may well be its owner . . .
About the Author
Pamela Kopfler was born a Texan and tumbled through twelve schools all over the U.S. before she finished high school, but she’s a Southerner—through and through. Now, she calls South Louisiana her home and writing her passion. When not spinning her next tale, she enjoys reading, weight training, traveling, target shooting, hiking, gardening, painting, and dining at dives to five-star restaurants. Visit her at www.pamelakopfler.com.
Read an Excerpt
"I don't see dead people anymore and that's a good thing." Holly Davis swirled her latest attempt at a Sazerac in a Waterford lowball glass. The ruby color of the cocktail sparkled against the crystal. Maybe this effort would be guest worthy. She lifted her glass to Nelda, the best cook in St. Agnes Parish, her housekeeper and closest thing she had to family. "The only spirit at Holly Grove these days is in this glass."
"You sure 'bout that?" Nelda's brows flattened as she stared up at the steady glow of the milk-glass pendant light in the circa 1928 kitchen, which was modern compared to the rest of Holly's antebellum B&B. Nelda shoved her hands onto her generous hips. "That thing's been flickering like a lightning bug off and on all day."
Holly studied the light fixture and took a sip of the Sazerac. She shivered. Her taste buds offered a vague rejection. Too what? Too strong? Too sweet? Wrong whiskey? "Well, it's not flickering now."
"No. But Burl, God rest his soul," Nelda said, making the sign of the cross. "He always messed with me when your back was turned or you weren't around." She snatched a cup towel off her shoulder and folded it into a pad. "You ain't been in here makin' gumbo and bread puddin' all afternoon with that light show."
Holly glanced at her Yorkie curled up sleeping in a sliver of what was left of the afternoon sun. "But you know Rhett yapped anytime Burl was around."
Rhett opened one sleepy eye when she said his name, but he didn't budge.
"That pup's been snoring all afternoon long. He wouldn't know if Jesus came in here."
"He hasn't been here either." Holly strolled across the cypress planks to the deep porcelain sink and dumped her failed Sazerac down the drain. "Hell evidently froze over in South Louisiana last week and bit back all the mint within miles. I always welcome guests with a Holly Grove mint julep, but that's out, and that Sazerac was nowhere near guest worthy."
"I hope all that flickerin' didn't make me mess up my bread puddin' like your Sazerac." Nelda shook her head then opened the oven. "Is your Jake really comin' this time?"
"He's not my Jake by any stretch of the imagination, but he swore he'd be here." If he cancels this time, I'm done. Since ICE sent him to Guatemala for a sting of some kind three months ago, he'd called her exactly three times, from three different numbers. Every call had been shorter than the last. This girl can take a hint.
"Humph. I'm gonna make it worth his while even if you don't. You know how he loves my bread puddin'." Nelda grinned and pulled out a pan of golden deliciousness from the oven. The sugary aroma wafted into the room and mixed with the savory bouquet of the gumbo simmering on the stove.
Steam curling from the gumbo pot reminded Holly of one of Burl's more memorable entrances. While it lasted, having a ghost at Holly Grove had been good for business, but not worth keeping the ghost of her sorry excuse for a husband for life.
Nelda's cooking was good for business, too, but Holly doubted it would bring Jake McCann back. It took him fifteen years to come back to Delta Ridge after the first time he left.
Nelda picked up her favorite wooden spoon that looked more like a paddle and stirred her gumbo. "It's flirtin' with ready."
The pendant light flickered.
Nelda spun around, wide-eyed. Gumbo dripped from her wooden spoon and splattered on the cypress floor. "I told you."
Rhett rousted and trotted to the splattering of gumbo. Just like a man — selective hearing ... and sight.
"The bulb is probably loose." Holly shrugged. She'd witnessed her not-so-dearly-departed's dramatic exit. "Burl is gone for good."
Rhett licked his lips and stared up at the spoon as though he could will another dribble of gumbo to fall.
"You didn't make up that story for me just so I wouldn't quit on you, did ya?"
"I swear." Holly crossed her heart then gave the CliffsNotes version of the story she'd told Nelda too many times. "Bright lights. Trumpets on high. Better than any Hollywood movie. And poof. Burl was gone."
"And he's at rest 'cause —"
"In the end, he earned it." And she'd found peace in that too.
"Praise be." Nelda glanced over each shoulder as if Burl could hear her. "God rest his sorry soul."
"But remember, don't tell anyone our ghost is gone," Holly said. "All the most successful B&Bs have ghosts, and Holly Grove needs that edge to make it."
"I won't tell it but I won't lie neither. I'm plannin' on goin' through those pearly gates one day too." Nelda stirred her award-winning gumbo, then rapped her big wooden spoon on the side of the pot. She turned and eyed Holly. "The whole world is gonna think Holly Grove is haunted after tonight."
At nine, Inquiring Minds would air the episode they'd shot back in the fall about the haunting at Holly Grove B&B. Holly ran her finger under the high neck of her black cashmere sweater. She had been on the receiving end of that look Nelda had given her, practically since birth. Nelda knew her too well. "Technically, Holly Grove had a ghost."
"H-A-D." Nelda spelled out the word. "You know you're in for a hurricane of trouble if folks find out you're acting like you got a ghost and you know fool well you don't. That's all I got to say."
* * *
Inquiring Minds would air coast-to-coast, full-color proof Holly Davis's Louisiana B&B was haunted in less than an hour. H-A-D a ghost my foot. Holly swiped her hair from her face, then backed out into the entrance hall with her cart. Trouble? Nelda just couldn't see the value in keeping the ghost — in spirit anyway.
Holly's basic black stilettos clicked on the cypress planks as she rolled the cart down the twelve-foot-wide entrance hall that ran from her front door to her back door. The wheels wobbled under the weight of the one TV in her entire B&B. She only hauled the old thing out of storage for special occasions like the LSU-Alabama game, the Super Bowl, and ... tonight. Otherwise, she kept her plantation home frozen in 1855 because that's what her guests paid to experience.
That and the ghost.
Holly could live with that lie, but it would be uncomfortable tonight. Her neck and chest heated. She had, no doubt, red splotches congregated under her black cashmere sweater like lie detectors.
No one — except Nelda and Jake — could ever know the ghost of her not-so-dearly-departed had checked out — permanently. The success of Holly Grove depended on keeping that a secret. She scrubbed a hand over an itchy spot on her neck, then straightened the pearls Burl had given her on their tenth anniversary.
Unfortunately, the ghost had top billing for the show tonight, but Holly Grove would still get nationwide exposure. She liked to think of it as alimony payments from beyond the grave. Thank you, Burl.
The steady thud of a hammer sounded from above. Holly and the whole town had done their part to keep Mackie McCann busy and sober until Jake could get back and keep an eye on his dad.
She'd hired Mackie to renovate the widow's walk and bring it up to code. Then she'd have an added attraction of stargazing from the top of Holly Grove. She'd even bought a special mounted telescope, which was a little over the top, but she loved it.
After the ghost buzz had died down and now in the dead of winter, business had slowed to a few guests here and there. That was to be expected and made this a good time to tackle the renovation. After tonight, she hoped she'd be booked for months and Holly Grove's future secured.
Portraits of five generations of the Lane women in her family lined the walls. She'd never let them down. They'd held on to Holly Grove through wars, yellow fever epidemics, floods, crop failures, and the Great Depression. Unfortunately, none of them could hold on to a man either.
The mystery portrait had hung across the hall from the family portraits and near the back door, until she moved it upstairs last week. It had always felt out of place. Mama and Grandma Rose had guessed the portrait was of some relative but neither knew for sure. With both of them gone, Holly would probably never know.
When tourists asked about the portrait, she had little to offer. After replacing the painting with recent ghost memorabilia, she had plenty to say at that stop on the tours. The display clashed with the period, but she could live with that infraction for the publicity.
She stopped and straightened a framed, glossy magazine article titled "The Ghost in the Grove." It was nestled between other articles and a collection of autographed photos of Holly with TV reporters and minor celebrities. The pics on a bulletin board of "supposed" ghost sightings by guests needed tidying too. Holly stood back and frowned. All the frames hung slightly askew.
She sighed and straightened the Gazette article about Nelda's Iron Skillet Award for her gumbo. Nelda's housekeeping skills didn't match her cooking skills. It seemed she could never dust and put things back exactly as they had been. But Nelda made up for that one flaw in so many ways it wasn't worth mentioning.
Nelda busted out of the kitchen and trotted down the hall waving Holly's cell phone. "Unknown number," she said panting. "Answer it quick. It might be your Jake."
Holly grabbed the phone and her heart took an involuntary uptick. "Or a telemarketer." She answered the call with a well-modulated hello.CHAPTER 2
"Hey, sweetheart." Jake's deep voice hummed through the line in high-voltage charm and fine-tuned ease that gave her temporary amnesia about their rocky history. "Are you ready for your television debut?"
"I'm getting there," she said. Though she wasn't convinced she'd ever be ready to relive Burl's haunting by watching it on TV.
Nelda practically beamed. "It's Jake, huh? You tell him I made bread puddin'," She stretched across the table and straightened a frame in the display on the entrance hall wall.
Now she notices her dusting chaos. Holly bit back a grin.
"Nelda says hi and she made bread pudding for you." Holly leaned against the guest book table and caught her reflection in the pier mirror on the opposite wall. The sappy smile on her face said what she wouldn't admit. She brushed a stringy blond curl out of her face and looked away. "How far away are you?" After a long pause he said, "Um, something came up down here. I'm not going to make it tonight."
"Down there?" She slumped against the table. "You're still in Guatemala, and you're just now letting me know you're not coming?"
"I'll explain when I get there. I promise."
Another promise to break. He's not coming now or possibly ever. Take the hint, Holly. "Don't bother. This is the third time you've canceled. I can't afford to hold a room and you not show up at the last minute."
Of course, she only had three rooms out of ten reserved tonight, but Jake didn't need to know that. She had to reframe her thinking to a strictly business relationship.
"I'll pay for it. Just hold a room until I can get there."
"For how long? Fifteen years?" It took him that long to come back to Delta Ridge after he blew out of town on graduation day.
"That could get expensive." Jake chuckled. "It won't be that long. You just keep a bed warm for me."
In his dreams. She wanted to reach through the phone and strangle him. "If you're lucky, I'll save Abe's cabin for you."
"The one without indoor plumbing?" he asked as though he didn't believe she'd put him out there.
"Yep and it's been unseasonably cold in Delta Ridge, too." She stared out the side panel of her front door at the winter fog rolling in off the river. Just like Jake, hard to predict.
"I guess you've missed me, since you're mad I'm not coming." He laughed again.
Muffled voices, speaking in Spanish, sounded in the background on his end.
"I missed you too, sweetheart," he whispered and ended the call.
She held the phone out and stared at it. He missed me? Seriously?
"Guess your Jake ain't comin'," Nelda said in a solemn tone and laid her hand on Holly's shoulder.
Holly didn't chance a glance at her. She didn't need that bless-your-poor-little-heart pity. And she didn't need Jake.
* * *
"Well, at least you won't be watchin' Inquiring Minds alone." Nelda held the kitchen door open for Holly to roll the TV cart into the kitchen.
"No thanks to Jake." As soon as Holly said his name she regretted it. The sooner she filed him away as a memory, the better.
"You should've had a big ol' party," Nelda said.
"I only want to watch the show with people who lived it with me." Even though they didn't know everything, they wouldn't question the haunting. Holly pushed the cart past the planter's table to the back wall. She'd carefully hidden her only cable connection behind a potted plant there.
"Me and Mackie are gonna stay and watch. You got Sam, Miss Alice and the Delta Ridge bridge ladies coming, too." Nelda clicked off the short guest list on her fingers. "Who else?"
"A couple has reservations." She slammed her palm to her forehead. "I still have to find a decent Sazerac recipe to make welcome cocktails. That kind of thing gets me good reviews."
"Humph." Nelda wagged a finger at Holly. "You keep practicin' and sippin' and you'll find trouble. You know what happened last time you overserved yourself."
Holly shivered. How could she forget going from tipsy to facing the ghost of her not-so-dearly-departed materializing in front of her? And she had to relive a bit of that during Inquiring Minds tonight. Watching it stone-cold sober may not be her best option. "I'm going to sip until I get it right."
"Where you gettin' those recipes?" Nelda asked.
Holly unwound the cable wire from around the TV. "The Internet."
"Humph." Nelda shook her head. "Any fool can put a recipe up on that world-wide-waste-a-time."
"This fool is going to perfect a Sazerac and post pictures all over the Internet as soon as I get this TV set up." Holly connected the cable line then plugged in the TV at the end of the planter's table. "Everyone should be able to see the screen here."
"And eat my gumbo and bread puddin'."
Holly dusted her palms together. "Now back to Sazerac practice."
More banging came from upstairs. Holly hadn't noticed it had stopped until it started again.
"You mind if I turn on the cookin' channel since you've got the TV set up and all? Maybe it'll drown out some of that racket Mackie is makin' up there," Nelda said, thumbing toward the ceiling.
"Knock yourself out." Holly fired up her tablet and clicked on another bookmarked Sazerac recipe.
A loud pop sounded.
Holly jumped, then whirled around.
Rhett's nails scratched across the floor as he ran out the kitchen.
"What was that?" Holly asked.
Nelda stood with one hand on her heart and the other holding the remote control. "I 'bout caught a heart attack. All I did was turn on the TV and somethin' blew up."
"Did the TV come on?"
"For a second." She clicked the remote twice, but the screen stayed blank.
Holly flipped the light switch off and on. Nothing.
Tail between his legs, Rhett peeked around the kitchen door at them.
Bless his heart. "Scared the daylights out of me too, Rhett," Holly said.
"Just for my nerves, tell me one more time that ghost is gone," Nelda said with her hand still clutching her chest.
Holly studied the milk-glass pendant light. Soot dotted the bottom of the glass. That can't be good.
She sniffed. If there was smoke in the air, the scent of gumbo had won out. "This isn't a ghost problem. It's an electrical problem."
Nelda wagged a finger at Holly. "I told you somethin' was wrong with that thing."
"I hope it didn't blow out the TV too." Holly sighed. "An electrician after hours will cost a fortune. Maybe Mackie can fix it."
"If he can't we're gonna have eight folks sittin' around in the dark tellin' ghost stories instead of watchin' one on TV."
"Just peachy." Holly folded her arms and glared at the old light fixture. That repair wasn't in the budget either. "First Jake cancels. Now this. Bad luck always comes in threes. What's next?"
"Shush." Nelda pressed a finger across her lips. "Don't ask. You might get it."
Holly's phone buzzed again. Another unknown number. Couldn't be Jake. That left two choices. Telemarketer or potential guest, and she couldn't miss taking a reservation. "Hello."
"Holly Davis?" asked a smooth professional voice. Totally a telemarketer. Fifty-fifty chance and I lose. Just my luck and a good reason I should never gamble.
"Yes," Holly answered, her voice as flat as her mood.
"I'm Sylvia Martin's assistant, Megan Long," said the woman on the line.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Downright Dead"
Copyright © 2018 Pamela Kopfler.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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