It's been quite a year for novelist Liz Holt. She's overcome a lot and is finally feeling at peace with her new life at her family's hotel, the Indialantic by the Sea, on the beautiful barrier island of Melbourne Beach, Florida. She's ready to ring in the New Year at the Florida Writes Literary Masquerade Ball.
But when her ex-boyfriend surprises her at the ball, she can't disguise her anger, and the two engage in a very public argument. When her ex turns up on the hotel grounds, shot through the heart, Liz finds herself topping the suspect list. With the help of family and friends, she needs to clear her name before the real killer waltzes away scot-free . . .
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
"An excellent read."
-RT Book Reviews on Hearse and Gardens
"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
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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
"Dear Miss Marple, it's so wonderful you've taken time away from your knitting and sleuthing to share a few moments with me. Shall I refresh your beverage?"
"Thank you, Mr. Holmes."
He bowed and took his pipe out of his mouth. "Please, call me Sherlock. What libation may I procure for you?"
"A corpse reviver or a zombie would be perfect."
Liz laughed. "I don't think the vicar of St. Mary Meade would be too happy if he heard one of his favorite parishioners ordering something so untoward."
Eighty-three-year-old Betty Lawson, author of 1960s teenage mysteries, who'd recently scored a contract for a new series set in Sherlockian London, looked the perfect Miss Marple in her wire-framed spectacles. Her gray hair was in a French twist punctuated with crisscrossed knitting needles.
"Miss Marple is always full of surprises," Betty said, handing the debonair Captain Netherton, aka Sherlock Holmes, her empty glass. "In case they don't know how to make a corpse reviver, it's cognac, calvados, and sweet vermouth."
"And a zombie?" the debonair captain asked.
"Apricot brandy, lime, and pineapple juice. Or a glass of white wine would also be fine," she said with a laugh.
"Back in a flash, Milady Jane." As he walked away, Liz heard him mutter, "Corpse reviver?"
Atticus Finch joined Betty and Liz. He wore a white rumpled dress shirt and a striped buttoned-up vest. His shirtsleeves were rolled above the elbows of his long arms, his tie loosened around his neck. Under the crook of his arm, he carried a worn leather Alabama law book. "Daughter," he said, peering at her from behind tortoiseshell-framed eyeglasses. "I mean, Miss Eyre. I think Miss Havisham is having a wardrobe malfunction and needs your assistance." Liz's father, Fenton Holt, couldn't have chosen a more perfect character from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird for the New Year's Literary Masquerade Ball. He was a former public defender who now took on small cases from his law office at the back of their family-run hotel. "She texted me from her sitting room," he added.
"Aunt Amelia, texting! Will wonders never cease?" Liz straightened the lace collar on her serviceable, long black wool dress and tucked in a section of strawberry blond hair that escaped her brown wig. She'd unearthed the wig from a trunk in her great-aunt's wardrobe closet. Aunt Amelia had worn the wig when she'd played the Collins family's maid on the set of the '60s television daytime soap drama Dark Shadows, featuring a campy vampire named Barnabas Collins. As Aunt Amelia explained it, Dark Shadows came along decades before the Twilight books.
"I better run," Liz said to her father. "I don't want Miss Havisham to miss a minute of the ball. Hey, where's your fiancée? I'm dyin' to see what fictional character she chose." Her father and Charlotte, also known as Agent Pearson, chief homicide detective on the Brevard County Sheriff's Department, had gotten engaged under the mistletoe on Christmas Eve. Liz and Charlotte had butted heads on more than one occasion, and things had gotten a little dicey when Liz helped Charlotte solve not one but two murders after she'd been told to lay off. But lately, Charlotte and Liz had put aside their differences because they both cared about the same man.
"Charlotte's due to arrive any minute and she wouldn't tell me who she's coming as," he said. "You better hurry. Your great-aunt sounded frantic."
"Okay. Save a dance for me," Liz said, kissing him on his smooth cheek.
She parted her way through the noisy crowd. Every New Year's Eve, the gala moved from venue to venue and was sponsored by the Melbourne Beach and Vero Beach library systems. This year, the charity event was taking place in the center courtyard of the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel, located on a barrier island on the central east coast of Florida. The hotel had recently received historical landmark status and had been in Liz's family since 1926.
The ball kicked off a week-long New Year's Writers' Festival. Liz's great-aunt had talked her into teaching a five-day workshop on the Importance of Setting in Fiction. "It's for charity, Lizzy dear," Aunt Amelia had said. "The same library system that has a copy, or should I say copies, of your own novel."
The workshop was scheduled for Monday in the lush gardens of St. Benedict's Abbey, a former monastery. The building and the five acres of land it sat on had been deeded to the state and was being used as a writers' retreat for unpublished authors hoping to get their writing juices flowing. Their only muse was the view of the Atlantic out the abbey's window.
Liz knew all about the importance of setting. Her first novel, Let the Wind Roar, took place during World War I at fictional Penrose Castle in Cornwall, England. Her second, unpublished, novel, An American in Cornwall, was set during World War II at the same castle. However, that was where the similarity ended. Each book was a stand-alone, the only things tying them together were Penrose Castle and the surrounding countryside. Her great-grandmother had grown up in a castle in Cornwall called Isle Tor and had immigrated to Melbourne Beach to marry Liz's great-grandfather. When Liz was a teen, she'd found a satchel in the hotel's luggage room filled with her great- grandmother's diaries. The descriptions of the moors and the sea had sparked her interest in the wilds of Cornwall and had never left her writer's imagination.
Liz brushed aside her worry about the class. Plus, Betty, her biggest supporter and mentor, would be in the classroom next to her. Aunt Amelia had also commandeered a class for Betty to teach: Writing the Teenage Mystery Novel.
Liz glanced around the packed crowd as she made her way toward the doors leading into the interior of the hotel. Most of the ball's attendees were dressed as their favorite character from literature. There were four Alices, two White Rabbits, a slew of Mad Hatters, and a large representation of characters from The Lord of the Rings. She saw an abundance of empire-waisted ankle-length gowns and beribboned, upswept hair and recognized a few Emmas, Janes, Elizabeths, and Fannys stepping off the pages of Jane Austen.
She made her way out of the courtyard's French doors and stepped into the Indialantic's lobby, which appeared frozen in time from when the resort first opened, almost a hundred years ago. It was filled with bamboo furniture, tropical-print cushions, and numerous potted palms. Even the antique glass ornaments on the ten-foot Douglas fir Christmas tree held true to the hotel's inception. Most of the ornaments were brought from England by Liz's great-grandmother Maeve.
Liz took the spiral staircase up to the second floor. When she reached the end of the long hallway of suites, she heard her great-aunt squeal, "Ouch!" She ran inside and found Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games with a bow and arrow slung across her back. She was trying to zip up Miss Havisham's dingy-white wedding dress. Katniss, also known as Kate, Liz's best friend since childhood, said, "Sorry, Aunt Amelia, but this dress seems to have shrunk since I laundered it." Kate had always called Liz's great-aunt Aunt Amelia. They weren't related by blood, but the ties were just as strong.
Aunt Amelia had her back to Liz. "That's so kind of you, Katie, to make excuses for the dress not fitting properly. We both know my voluptuous physique is more to blame. It's impossible to believe I was once a size eight. However, that was almost sixty years ago."
Liz glanced over at a photo on the dressing room wall that showed a svelte Amelia Eden Holt arm-in-arm with the actor Adam West, who starred in the '60s television series Batman. In the photo, unbeknownst to Mr. West, fiery, red-haired Amelia was giving the actor bunny ears. With over fifty television roles to her credit, Liz's great-aunt was known as a prolific character actress in the 1960s and early 1970s. In the many star photos Liz had viewed over the years, she could tell Aunt Amelia had been a "character" both on and off the screen. And she still was. Since taking over the running of the Indialantic by the Sea Hotel, Aunt Amelia had turned to local theater to quench her passion for the spotlight. Her current role in the Melbourne Beach Theatre Company's production of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap was as Mollie Ralston, proprietor of Monkswell Manor. The role was originally meant for a newlywed in her twenties, not an eighty-year-old woman. Rest assured, Aunt Amelia would make the part her very own.
Liz walked up to Kate and grabbed one side of the dress's zipper. Kate held the other side. "No problem, Auntie. Kate and I will get it closed. On the count of three, tug. One. Two. Three!"
They both stretched their sides of the yellowed-satin material to meet the center of Aunt Amelia's back.
"Take a deep breath, Auntie," Liz said, tugging harder. They closed the zipper, but the sound of ripping fabric soon followed.
Aunt Amelia put her hand over her right hip, hiding a three-inch tear.
"Oops," Kate said.
"'Please don't squeeze the Charmin!'" Barnacle Bob belted out. Aunt Amelia's macaw, who liked to repeat '60s television commercial jingles, many of which Aunt Amelia had starred in, was perched on the back of a velvet slipper chair.
"Hush, BB," Liz said with a grin. At least he hadn't used one of his curse words. She and Barnacle Bob had a joking relationship. At least she thought they did. However, she'd never let him sit on her shoulder as did her great-aunt. The one time he had, he'd ripped a gold hoop from her earlobe, drawing blood.
Aunt Amelia turned and faced them. Liz couldn't help but burst out laughing. Her great-aunt's usually brightly made-up face was a powdery white. Her trademarked frosted blue eyeshadow and thick black eyeliner had been replaced with smudged charcoal shadow that circled both her eyes raccoon style, giving her a ghoulish appearance. She wore only one shoe, as depicted in the Dickens novel Great Expectations, showing that when Miss Havisham received the news of her canceled wedding, she was in the midst of dressing.
"No worries, my avian pet. I'm fine," Aunt Amelia said, tickling Barnacle Bob under the beak. "The girls had no choice but to squeeze me inside the dress like sausage into its casing. Reminds me of the time I had to wear a corset on the set of The Wild Wild West. I'm not too worried about the ripped seam. Miss Havisham's tattered wedding dress would have looked very similar."
Barnacle Bob whistled. "Va-va-voom!"
"What a charmer," Aunt Amelia said. "But I think it's time for you to get your eyes tested, BB."
"Brownnoser," Liz said to the bald-headed parrot. "Auntie, you look the perfect, insane, jilted bride-to-be. We'd better hurry downstairs so you can judge the best costume contest. Seems you have another Indialantic by the Sea success on your hands."
Aunt Amelia clapped her hands in excitement. "You're right, darling. I don't want to miss a thing." After appraising herself in the full-length mirror, satisfied she looked her best — or, in this case, her worst — she exited the lavishly decorated bedroom. Liz and Kate followed behind, holding on to the long train of the wedding gown. They looked like two bridesmaids — one from the nineteenth century, the other from the postapocalyptic future.
When they entered the sitting room, Liz glanced out the French doors that opened to a wide balcony that overlooked the ocean. The moon was bright. They couldn't ask for a more perfect night for the ball. The temperatures at the end of December in Florida could be on the cool side, but nothing like last December, when Liz still lived in Manhattan. That had been one record snowfall after another, which made the city a perfect backdrop for the holiday season. However, Liz didn't miss the tree at Rockefeller Center or the shop windows on Fifth Avenue because this Christmas they'd celebrated in the Indialantic's grand library, surrounded by thousands of books and a roaring fire in the fireplace her great- grandfather had commissioned in 1926, hoping his new bride would miss Cornwall a little less.
Aunt Amelia insisted that the Indialantic have three live, ten-foot-tall Christmas trees. Soon, the trees would be recycled into garden mulch. Her great-aunt, an avid gardener and environmentalist, made sure the tree farm in North Carolina from which the trees were shipped would plant new saplings in their place. Most islanders were eco-conscious.
"Oh, I feel like I've forgotten something, Lizzy," Aunt Amelia said, opening the door to the hallway.
A horrendous squawking came from behind the closed door of her great-aunt's bedroom.
They all laughed.
Kate said, "Let me rescue the little brat. You go on ahead."
"You heard her, Auntie." Liz grabbed her great-aunt's elbow and steered her out of the suite. On the way out the door, Aunt Amelia grabbed a small mantel clock off the credenza. The clock's face was frozen at twenty minutes to nine.
"Nice touch, Miss Havisham," Liz said, referring to the clock.
As they scurried down the hallway, Aunt Amelia said, "Yes, the exact time I received the letter canceling my wedding. Oh, Lizzy, has the band arrived?"
"Yes. I heard them start up as I was leaving the courtyard to find you." Liz stopped for a moment, gasping for breath. She was sure her great-aunt could beat her in a relay race.
Kate caught up to them just as Barnacle Bob whizzed by, the edges of his peacock-blue wings brushing against Liz's cheek. She opened her mouth to chastise him only to inhale a pin-feather. The parrot latched onto Aunt Amelia's right shoulder and belted out, "Wheaties, breakfast of champions," then held on for dear life.
"You need your Wheaties, BB," Liz said, "just to keep up with your mother. Don't know if BB goes with your costume, Auntie."
"Have no worries. He'll be relegated to his cage in the butler's pantry. The last time he was in public, it didn't turn out too well."
"That's an understatement," Liz replied.
"Are you going to sing any Broadway favorites tonight, Aunt Amelia?" Kate asked as they took a breather at the top of the spiral staircase leading downstairs. The sound of jazz filtered up to greet them.
"In answer to your question, Katie, I'll sing with the band if prodded."
Liz knew it wouldn't take much prodding.
"I think the song 'I Feel Pretty' from the musical West Side Story would fit in nicely with the theme of the ball," Aunt Amelia continued.
Liz wasn't sure an elderly, macabre bride singing "I Feel Pretty" would go over too well with the literary purists. The musical was based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, so her great-aunt was right on that account. But she knew one thing: it didn't matter. When Amelia Eden Holt made up her mind, nothing could hold her back.CHAPTER 2
"Care for a glass of bubbly, ma petite?" Hercule Poirot asked Liz, nodding toward the ice sculpture of Ernest Hemingway. Papa Hemingway's mouth spouted a geyser of champagne.
"Would love one, Grand-Pierre." Liz called the hotel's eighty-one- year-old chef "Grand-Pierre," a play on the French word grand-père, which translates in English to grandfather, because that was how she thought of him. Pierre Montague had been at the Indialantic from before Liz arrived with her father twenty-three years ago at the age of five. Chef Pierre resembled Agatha Christie's Poirot 24-7, with his waxed and curled mustache. Only instead of the homburg he wore now, you could usually find him in his white chef's toque from dawn to dusk. She said, "Of course you would come as none other than your favorite character from fiction. Love your dandy ascot, gold-handled cane, and patent- leather boots. Are you sure Dame Christie never met you before you came to America?"
"Mon Dieu!" he said, tapping his cane on the courtyard's terracotta tile. "I'm not that ancient, Lizzy dear. Monsieur Poirot made his first appearance in 1920 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I wasn't even born yet. Plus, Poirot is Belgian. I'm French."
"But of course," Liz said. "May I have this dance, Grand-Pierre?"
"I'm afraid my dance card is full. Feeling a little light-headed. I think I only have one dance in me this evening and I promised it to ..." He looked toward the French doors leading to the dining room. "There she is now."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder by the Sea"
Copyright © 2019 Kathleen Bridge.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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