Return to the house on Tradd Street one last time in this hauntingly spectacular finale to the bestselling series featuring psychic medium Melanie Trenholm.
After the devastating events of the past few months, the last thing Melanie Trenholm wants is to think about the future. Why, when her husband, Jack, has asked for a separation—a separation that might have been her fault? Nevertheless, with twin toddlers, a stepdaughter leaving for college soon, a real estate career to resume and a historic home that is still being restored, Melanie doesn’t have much time to wonder where it all went wrong—but that doesn’t stop her from trying to win her husband back.
Their relationship issues are pushed aside, however, when longtime nemesis, Marc Longo, comes to them with a proposition: allow their Tradd Street house to be used as the filming location for the movie adaptation of Marc’s bestselling book, and he will help Jack re-establish his stalled writing career. Despite Melanie’s hesitation, Jack jumps at the chance. But Melanie’s doubts soon prove to be well founded when she uncovers ulterior reasons for Marc wanting to be back in their house—reasons that include a hidden gem so brilliant that legend links it to the most infamous jewel of all, the Hope Diamond.
But Melanie has an unexpected ally in protecting the house and its inhabitants—the ghost of a Civil War era girl warns her of increasing threats to her family. But she’s not the only spirit who is haunting Melanie. A malevolent ghost seems determined to stop Melanie from investigating the decades-old murder of a friend’s sister, and this spirit will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—even from beyond the grave.
Melanie and Jack must work together to find the answers before evil spirits of past and present destroy everything they love.
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Snow in Charleston is as magical as it is rare, the icy white dusting on palm trees and church steeples, ancient statues and wrought iron fences transforming the Holy City into an enchanting snow globe. Snowmen sprouted like weeds in lawns and parks, and snow angels spread their wings on every flat spot of ground as children and adults alike ran outside to play in an exotic frosty playground.
For nearly three days after the record-breaking snowstorm as the temperature began to rise, patches of white clung desperately to every surface, gradually shrinking as the world thawed, leaving only trickling eaves and slushy puddles as a reminder that they had ever been there at all.
I watched it all from inside my house on Tradd Street, my heart seemingly as frozen as the icy stalactites dripping from the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park. In less than a week's time, my life had flipped itself upside down as if it had decided to accept the wintry invitation to glide on the ice without benefit of skates. Or any kind of padding that might soften the inevitable fall.
I had somehow managed to go from being a very happily married mother of three to being a seemingly single mother with an estranged husband and a marriage as precarious as the melting ice. And all because I had made the simple mistake of breaking my promise to trust Jack enough to share everything with him. To be a team in all things.
Despite what everyone seemed to think, it wasn't entirely my fault. Jack-a bestselling author of true-crime mysteries-and I had been working to solve the mystery of where a Revolutionary War treasure was hidden, before Jack's nemesis, self-proclaimed author and all-around jerk Marc Longo, discovered it first. Marc had managed to steal Jack's book idea about the disappearance of Louisa Gibbes, who'd once lived in our house on Tradd Street and been murdered by Marc's ancestor Joseph Longo. Marc not only made the book an international bestseller but also scored a major movie deal. And then he somehow managed to manipulate us into allowing the movie to be filmed in our house. For Jack's sake, I couldn't let Marc win again.
It wasn't my fault that Jack had had a bad case of the flu at the same time I'd figured out that the treasure was buried in the cemetery at Gallen Hall Plantation-owned by Marc Longo's brother, Anthony-and that I hadn't had time for Jack to get better. It wasn't my fault that Marc and Anthony had anticipated my solving the mystery and were waiting for me to point the way to the hidden treasure. Nor was it my fault that my half sister, Jayne, had told Jack what I was up to and that he had then insisted on going to the cemetery. And it was definitely not my fault that he had happened to step on an old grave full of crumbling coffins that collapsed under him, nearly burying him alive.
As far as I could tell, my only mistake was believing that Jack would be so happy that I'd found the treasure that he'd forgive me for everything else. But, as I'd discovered, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, and it turns out that asking for forgiveness is not necessarily easier than asking for permission.
I'd rushed through the snow-covered landscape of my Charleston neighborhood to tell Jack that I was sorry, that I'd made a mistake and wouldn't let it happen again, and found him packing his bags. His response had been telling me good-bye, followed by a decisive snap of the front door as it closed in my face.
For three weeks I didn't leave the house, not wanting to be absent when Jack decided to return. Friends and family came and went in various attempts to rouse me, to try to coax me outside with promises of doughnuts and coffee-neither of which seemed appealing to me anymore.
Christmas passed almost as a nonevent. My stepdaughter, Nola, had outdone herself by going against her own dietary preferences and making my favorite gluten- and carb-filled desserts and other dishes that I'd done my best to pretend to eat. She and my twenty-one-month-old twins, JJ-for Jack Junior-and Sarah, saved the entire holiday by being the only bright spots of joy.
Their nanny, Jayne, had bundled them up to take them to Jack's parents' house, where they would celebrate Christmas for the second time on the same day. Nola and the twins hadn't seemed to be nearly as upset as I had been at the prospect of their opening more gifts without me there. Gifts that no doubt had been wrapped haphazardly instead of their every corner being measured for preciseness and each dab of tape being exactly the same size since apparently only their mother knew how important those kinds of things were.
I'd even showered and washed my hair, with the dim hope that Jack would come himself to collect them, but then had had to bravely kiss the children good-bye. My three dogs-General Lee, Porgy, and Bess-had whined and snuffled, brightening my mood until I realized that they were upset not on my behalf but because they'd wanted to go, too.
Even after Christmas, when everyone was returning to work, my job as a Realtor with Henderson House Realty didn't entice me enough to put on clothes and make my way to my office on Broad Street. It was slow this time of year anyway, and our receptionist, Jolly, promised to call me with anything important. Besides being a meticulous record keeper and notetaker (something I appreciated more than most), she was also a self-professed psychic whose predictions were either wildly inaccurate or eerily spot-on. She'd called only once, to let me know definitively-according to her-that ghosts didn't leave footprints in the snow. I hadn't had the heart to tell her that she was wrong.
Now, almost three weeks into the New Year, I stood at one of the tall dining room windows that overlooked our Loutrel Briggs garden, which had been lovingly restored by my father. All of his painstaking work had been drastically undone by the previous spring's torrential rainstorms, which had revealed an ancient cistern and exposed more than just old bricks.
If my entire demeanor and outlook on life hadn't been as dark and empty as the bottom of the cistern, I'd probably have been hoping that the last of the restless spirits that had been awakened by its sudden exposure had quit the premises. After all, they were partially responsible for Jack's leaving. But only partially. The rest of the blame lay elsewhere, although Jack and I apparently had opposing opinions as to exactly where.
Pressing my forehead against the cold glass of the window, I watched with disinterest as small indentations began to appear in a line around what remained of the snow atop the blue tarp, protected from the sun by the ancient oak tree. The occasional bare peak of blue canvas made me think of the protruding elbows of frozen swimmers.
I blinked, recognizing the clear marks of the heel and toe of a small booted foot creating a path through the garden. I straightened when I realized the footprints had stopped directly in front of the window where I stood.
I jumped, something I rarely did, and spun around with my hand on my throat. For most of my forty-one years, I'd been visited by the dearly departed, but I'd always found them more annoying than frightening. Especially the ones who seemed to enjoy appearing behind me in mirrors or materializing on stair landings before rudely shoving me. At some point, I would need to have a discussion with them about manners.
Jayne stood behind me, holding a bag that smelled suspiciously like doughnuts. In her other hand she held a mug from the kitchen, with steam rising from the surface, its light brown color telling me that she'd added just the right amount of cream. We'd known each other for only about a year, but long enough to know we both liked our coffee with lots of cream and even more sugar, that she was more athletic than I was, that she hated the dark for the same reason I did, and that we'd both inherited from our mother the ability to communicate with the dead. She was looking beyond me toward the garden and the single set of footprints.
"Who is that?" she asked quietly, as if not wanting to alert whoever or whatever it was that we were there. But she was too late. The hairs on the back of my neck and along my arms were already standing at attention. I suddenly recalled the most recent column written by Post and Courier journalist Suzy Dorf.
. . . the cistern excavation at the former Vanderhorst residence on Tradd Street is still in progress, but an unnamed source has told me that there are more secrets hidden there, and there are bets going on in certain parts of our society on whether the owners of the house will be residing together in the home by the time the last treasure is revealed.
I deliberately turned my back to the window. "I have no idea, and no intention of finding out. I'm done with all that."
"But what about your friend Veronica? You promised to help her find out who murdered her sister. We're supposed to work together, remember? Not to mention that Veronica's counting on you. Especially now that her husband is pressing to sell their family home. Adrienne's still there-you've felt her presence. And we both know that if they move out, you'll lose the best chance of finding her killer."
I stared back at her for a moment before nodding slowly. "And I imagine that you won't let me forget about it anytime soon."
"Nope." She stood next to me and pressed her forehead against the window to peer into the garden. "Are they almost done with the excavation? Dad's garden is practically destroyed. Although between you and me, I think the prospect of starting all over again excites him. I think we should limit the number of gardening classes he attends. His enthusiasm is getting out of control."
I nodded, no longer on the defensive when she referred to my father as "Dad." She was born after my parents divorced, after our mother had reconnected with an old beau. Jayne's identity and the fact that she hadn't died at birth, as our mother had been told, had been only recently confirmed after she'd unexpectedly inherited a house on South Battery and we'd had to work alongside our mother to combat the angry ghost of her father's wife.
Having been only recently reconciled with my estranged mother and father, I'd had difficulty accepting a new sibling, who'd been immediately embraced by both parents. Despite my initial misgivings, I'd come to accept and love the new addition to my family and was secretly thrilled to have a sister who shared more with me than just DNA.
"Sophie keeps telling me that they're close to being done. I'm not going to tell her about the footsteps because I want that cistern filled in and forgotten."
Jayne turned to face me. Instead of rebuking me, she widened her eyes as she took a closer look at me. "Have you been raiding Sophie's closet?"
Dr. Sophie Wallen-Arasi was-against all reason-my best friend. A professor of historic preservation at the College of Charleston, she was mismatched tie-dye to my crisp linen suits with matching handbags, Birkenstocks to my Louboutins, and real Christmas greenery versus hassle-free plastic garlands, because she liked to make things more difficult than they should be. I liked to think that we complemented each other, rounding off any sharp edges of our personalities. She'd guided me through the extensive and never-ending renovations on my historic house, which I'd unwillingly inherited-along with a dog, General Lee, and Mrs. Houlihan the housekeeper. All the while, I had kept up a running commentary about her bizarre clothing choices in the hope that one day she might actually look in a mirror and fix things.
I looked down at my baggy sweatpants and moth-eaten cardigan sweater with an unidentified food stain on the sleeve, and felt my eyes well with tears. I'd found them in a dark corner of the closet where Jack had dropped and forgotten them. Besides our children, they were the only things of his he'd left behind.
As if to stave off more tears, Jayne held up the bag and mug with a hopeful smile. "I brought you doughnuts from Glazed. And made you coffee just the way you like it." She moved closer so I could feel the steam from the coffee. "Since Mrs. Houlihan is still on vacation, I helped myself."
My mouth would usually have started watering at the mere mention of my favorite doughnut shop, but all I could muster was a soft grumble in my stomach. I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten.
I took the mug while she set the bag on the dining room table and eyed the shriveled oranges and the dead pine boughs regurgitating brown needles on the glossy wood surface. The centerpiece relic was from a Christmas dinner fund-raiser the night of the big snow when Jack had nearly been buried alive. A sudden flash of anger pushed away a little of my despondency. I accepted that I had perhaps broken our trust agreement by venturing out on my own. But I also couldn't stop thinking that if Jack had just stayed in bed to recover from the flu like he'd been told, he wouldn't have been in the snow-covered cemetery that night or fallen into a collapsed grave.
"It's almost the end of January, Melanie. Would you like me to help you take down the Christmas decorations?"
She indicated the drooping Christmas tree in the corner. The sad ornaments huddled at the bottom, where they'd slid off of bare branches next to puckered oranges in various stages of decay like victims of a massacre in which indifference had been the only weapon.
I shrugged. "Sure." Ignoring the doughnuts, I took a sip of coffee, barely tasting it. I wrapped my fingers around the mug, appreciating its warmth, but paused as I raised it to my lips for a second sip. "Why are you here? Sarah and JJ are with Jack today."
Jayne sighed. "Besides the fact that I shouldn't need a reason to visit my sister or to bring sustenance since Mrs. Houlihan is away, I am bringing a message."
"A message?" I didn't bother to hide the hopefulness in my voice; one of the best things about having a sister was the absence of the need for pretense.