When Nancy and Bess accompany George to a cousin’s wedding in historic Charleston, South Carolina, they end up staying at an old inn near the family’s home with the rest of the guests. But when they begin hearing strange noises and witnessing unexplained phenomena at night—they soon discover that it’s one of Charleston’s most haunted hotels! When the wedding rings disappear during one of these spooky evenings, Nancy knows she’s got to get to the bottom of this ghostly mystery…before there isn’t a happily ever after.
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The Ghost of Grey Fox Inn CHAPTER ONE
Here Comes the Bride
“WHAT DO YOU THINK, GIRLS?” I called to my best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne. “Should we drive with the top up, or down?”
Bess twisted to look back at George, who was sitting in the backseat of the white convertible we’d just rented from Charleston International Airport. “That’s a silly question, Nancy,” George said. “It’s eighty degrees, the sun is shining, and we’re on vacation—put the top down!”
I grinned and pushed a button on the dashboard to lower the car’s roof. The South Carolina sun was a welcome change from the stormy late-summer weather back home in River Heights. “It’s perfect weather for a wedding!” Bess exclaimed, taking a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses out of her purse.
“It certainly was nice of Charlotte to give you ‘plus two’ for the wedding, Bess,” I said, pulling onto the main road toward town and enjoying the wind blowing through my hair. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to have this little getaway together.” Bess’s cousin Charlotte was getting married in two days, and she had invited Bess to be one of her bridesmaids. Because Charlotte was marrying a handsome news anchor, the wedding was all over the news and the Internet—everyone was calling it the wedding of the year. George and I were delighted to come along—maybe we’d even be able to squeeze in a little time on the beach!
“I can’t wait for you guys to meet Charlotte,” Bess said. “The girl is so organized, I bet she’s got the entire wedding planned down to the millisecond. The bridesmaid dresses are the perfect warm peach color for this time of year, don’t you think?”
I could almost hear George rolling her eyes from the backseat. “What does it matter? It could be lime green or neon orange—boys would still be falling over themselves to talk to you.”
“Lime green?!” Bess exclaimed in horror. “Ugh. Well, Charlotte isn’t exactly a fashion bug, but at least she picked something more suitable than that.”
I shook my head and smiled. Bess and George may be cousins, but they couldn’t be more different. I glanced over at Bess, who looked like an old-fashioned movie star, with her dark sunglasses on and her blond hair tucked neatly back into a silk scarf. Bess had been gushing with excitement about this wedding ever since she got the invitation a couple of months ago. Besides all the hype, both families were fairly wealthy, so it was bound to be quite the elegant affair. And more than that, Bess simply loved the romance of it—the flowers, the dresses, the music . . . everything.
George, on the other hand, couldn’t have been less interested in the idea of attending a wedding. Charlotte was from the other side of Bess’s family, so George wouldn’t know anyone there. Even so, she was all too happy to travel to a new city and check out the sights. Wedding or no wedding—it was an excuse for an adventure. Peeking in the rearview mirror, I spied George taking pictures of the passing landmarks with her smartphone, her short black hair flying in the breeze. She was dressed in jeans and a thrift-store T-shirt—the official George Fayne uniform for everyday comfort.
“Check it out!” George called suddenly. “It’s Rainbow Row!” I slowed the car as we drove up to a line of beautiful row houses painted in pastel colors.
“Ooh, look at that powder-blue one,” Bess cooed. “And there’s a pink one too!”
George madly snapped photos until we’d passed the last house, when I stepped back on the gas. “I was hoping we’d get to see that!” she said excitedly. “Did you guys know that Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina? People often call it the Holy City because of how many churches there are here.”
“I guess that makes it a really good place for a wedding,” I said, stopping at a red light.
“And because it has such a long history,” George added, “it’s famous for having a lot of ghosts! Even the place where we’re staying is supposedly haunted.”
I raised my eyebrow at this and craned my head to look at George. “Did a lot of web surfing on the plane, did you?”
George smirked and held up her hands in surrender. “Guilty as charged, Sherlock,” she said. “Another baffling mystery: solved!”
I chuckled as we continued driving through the picturesque streets of historic Charleston. George loves to tease, but the truth is, to me, mystery solving is anything but a joke. Back home in River Heights, I’ve gotten somewhat of a reputation as an amateur detective—and over the years I’ve learned that trouble has a way of finding me, no matter where I go.
“There it is!” Bess said, and pointed toward a stately white building up ahead. “The Grey Fox Inn!”
I pulled the convertible into the curving driveway that led to the inn’s entrance, and stopped the car to take in our surroundings. The building had two stories, with wide, columned patios wrapping around the entire first floor. The grounds were taken up with lush, sculptured gardens, dotted with stone bird fountains and overlooked by huge, moss-covered trees.
“It’s absolutely stunning,” I breathed.
“I just hope they have Wi-Fi,” George said, jumping out of the car.
As we were pulling our bags from the trunk, a blue sedan came up the driveway and stopped behind us. A petite brunette popped out of the backseat and squinted at us through black-framed glasses. “Bess!” the young woman said. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here!”
Bess smiled widely and ran over to embrace her. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Bess took the girl by the hand and pulled her toward us. “I want you to meet my very best friends, Nancy Drew and George Fayne—George is my cousin from the other side of the family back in River Heights. Girls, this is my cousin Charlotte Goodwin—the bride-to-be!”
I reached out my hand to Charlotte, who grasped it firmly, looking me straight in the eye. It was strange—given my two friends, I would have thought Charlotte to be one of George’s relations rather than Bess’s. Her dark brown hair was cut in a no-nonsense, chin-length bob, and she wore no jewelry aside from the sparkling diamond on her ring finger. Her somber maroon turtleneck and black pants seemed completely at odds with the light and summery city all around us. “Thank you for coming all this way,” Charlotte said seriously. “I know it’s a long trip from River Heights.”
“The pleasure is ours,” I replied. “Thank you for inviting us to your big day.” I cocked my head as a sweet scent reached my nostrils. “Huh,” I said. “What is that smell?”
“Oh,” Charlotte’s cheeks reddened. “It must be this perfume I’m wearing. It’s too strong, isn’t it? I hardly ever wear the stuff. I can wash it off if you—”
“No, not at all!” I interrupted. “I was just going to say how nice it was.” After her initial delight at seeing Bess faded, I noticed that Charlotte seemed anxious and pale. Was something wrong?
Bess must have noticed too. “You doing okay, Charlotte?” she asked, stepping closer to her cousin.
Charlotte looked startled by the question. “Me? Oh—of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” She paused and wrapped her arms around herself, as if she were chilled even as the blazing sun beat down on our heads. “I just . . . I guess you can never really be prepared for something like a wedding,” she continued in a low voice. “It’s so stressful! Getting all these different people together, hoping they’ll get along. And there’ll always be something that you didn’t plan for—”
“Charlotte!” a voice called from the blue sedan. “Where do you want all these gift bags?”
“I’ll be right there!” Charlotte replied. She turned back to us, all business once again. “Some of the other bridesmaids are helping me get everything out of the car,” she said. “But you guys go ahead and check in with the front desk; I’ll see you inside. Your rooms should all be ready.” She started to step away, but then stopped and turned back to us. “Oh! I almost forgot.” She reached into the tote she was carrying and pulled out three gift bags. “These contain maps of the area, with restaurants and other attractions clearly marked, as well as some miscellaneous toiletries, in case you forgot anything at home. I included a few historical pamphlets for light reading as well.” She handed a bag to each of us, gave a sharp nod, and turned to help her friends unload the car.
“Wow,” I said, peeking into the meticulously packed bag as she left. “You were right, Bess. She is organized.”
“This is classic Charlotte,” Bess replied with a wave of her hand. “She’s always been a very serious person, even when she was a little girl. She’s pursuing a PhD in history, you know. That’s what brought her to Charleston in the first place—and how she ended up meeting her fiancé, Parker. To be honest, I was surprised to hear that she was getting married. She never seemed like the kind of girl who was interested in romance!”
“The right person can turn anyone into a romantic,” I said, thinking of Ned, my own boyfriend back home.
We hauled our suitcases up to the front patio of the inn, where several guests reclined in wicker rocking chairs, sipping tall glasses of iced tea. We crossed the threshold into the main foyer, and all stopped to gape. A grand, curving mahogany staircase dominated the room, the steps carpeted in scarlet. The walls were papered in a faded floral print, and the wooden floors shone in the sunlight that poured through the large windows at the rear of the building.
“Not too shabby,” George said appreciatively.
“Oh . . . there are Charlotte’s parents—Aunt Sharon and Uncle Russell!” Bess said.
A group of people were clustered around a small central table, which had been laid out with glass pitchers of iced tea and tiny sandwiches. The couple I guessed were Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin were both lean and well dressed, and Mrs. Goodwin sniffed at the sandwiches as if she wasn’t sure whether to trust them. Bess had told us that Charlotte’s family lived in Connecticut—her mother was a real estate agent, and her father worked on Wall Street.
Also standing at the table was a handsome young man with ash-blond hair, dressed in a cream-colored linen shirt and oxford shorts. An older couple stood on either side of him like bookends, a stark contrast to the Goodwins. Unlike Charlotte’s parents, these two were short and stocky people; the man had an ostentatious mustache, and the woman wore her bleached-blond hair in a bouffant that looked as if it were hair-sprayed within an inch of its life.
“Well, Parker,” the older man was saying, “aren’t you going to introduce us to your new in-laws?”
“Sure, Dad,” Parker replied, a little awkwardly. He gestured to Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, saying, “These are Charlotte’s parents, Russell and Sharon.”
Parker’s father stepped forward and pumped Mr. Goodwin’s hand with fervor. “Welcome to Charleston, y’all. The name’s Cassius Hill—but my friends all call me Cash.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hill,” Mrs. Goodwin said, a little stiffly, and extended her hand to him.
But instead of shaking it, Mr. Hill brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it. “The pleasure is all mine, madam,” he said playfully.
I watched as Mrs. Goodwin’s face paled.
“Allow me to introduce my lovely wife, Bonnie,” Mr. Hill said. Mrs. Hill moved to stand next to her husband, her light blue, flouncy dress fluttering around her as she went. “Forget the handshakes,” she said in a heavy Southern drawl. “I’m a hugger!” She threw her arms around the startled Goodwins, just as Charlotte came through the door and saw what was happening.
“Oh,” she said, clearly dismayed. “I see you all have already met.”
“Yes,” Mr. Goodwin said, extricating himself from Mrs. Hill’s embrace. “We have.”
“And they say Yankees and Southerners can’t get along!” Mr. Hill chortled, a little too cheerfully. The joke was greeted with a stony silence.
Mrs. Hill cleared her throat and looked around the room, seemingly searching for something to talk about. Her eyes landed on the girls and me. “Now, Charlotte, who are these lovely young ladies?” she asked, stepping toward us.
Relieved to have the focus off her flustered parents, Charlotte pointed us out in turn. “This is Bess Marvin, my cousin—she’s going to be one of my bridesmaids. And these are her friends George Fayne and Nancy Drew.”
Mrs. Hill nodded politely at Bess and George, but her eyebrows went up a little when she took a closer look at me. “A redhead!” she said, almost to herself. And then a little louder, “How very nice to meet you all.” She moved back to the table with her husband and son. Parker began pouring iced tea for everyone, while Mr. Hill regaled the Goodwins with the history of the inn. As he was talking, Mrs. Hill surreptitiously rapped her knuckles three times on the surface of the table. If I hadn’t been watching, I would have missed it completely.
Parker saw it too and came over to me with a drink. “Don’t mind her,” he murmured with a smile. “My mother is extremely superstitious, and this whole wedding thing has her on high alert for bad luck.”
“But what does that have to do with Nancy?” George asked.
Parker looked apologetic. “Well, redheads are sort of like black cats. If one crosses your path . . .”
Bess laughed. “Well, Nancy is known to attract mischief wherever she goes!” She went on to tell Parker a little bit about my exploits as an amateur detective.
Parker looked intrigued. “If only you lived in Charleston!” he said. “I would love to interview you for a local color piece.”
“Parker is the lead anchorman for one of Charleston’s news stations,” Charlotte explained. “He was doing a story about the Charleston Historical Society when I was working there as an intern. It’s actually how we met.” She smiled up at him, and Parker reached over to squeeze her hand.
A moment later Mr. Hill’s strident voice boomed out, silencing our conversation. “What’s that you were saying, Russ?”
I turned to see Mrs. Goodwin looking stricken. “It was nothing, really—” she started to say.
But Mr. Goodwin interrupted her. “I was saying that this is a lovely inn, but that I still don’t understand why we couldn’t have the bridal party stay at a less expensive venue.”
Mr. Hill’s face colored slightly. “Well, sir, I don’t know about you, but in my family, we like to give our children the best we can, especially for such a special day.”
The room became uncomfortably quiet, and I glanced over at Charlotte. The smile had fallen from her face, replaced once more by that anxious expression she’d worn in the parking lot. It made me wonder if there was more to her nervousness than normal pre-wedding jitters. “I’m suddenly really tired,” she announced in a flat voice, turning to Parker. “I’m going up to my room.”
“Hey, Char, wait—” Parker called out. But Charlotte shook her head, her lips pressed into a tight line. She set down her glass on a side table nearby, grabbed her suitcase, and climbed the spiral staircase without another word.
Bess and George looked at me, their expressions curious. As casually as I could, I said that we should probably check in to our rooms as well. The Goodwins and the Hills barely acknowledged us as we went off to find the front desk.
“Man,” George whispered as soon as we were out of earshot. “Trouble in paradise, huh?”
“It’s pretty common for there to be some tension between the bride’s and groom’s families,” I reasoned. “It’s probably just nerves getting to them. I’m sure they’ll get along much better once all the excitement begins.”
“I hope so,” Bess said, her eyes filled with concern. “I know Charlotte was worried about the two families getting along, but I didn’t realize it was this bad.”
Around the corner, we found an older man with salt-and-pepper hair and a close-cropped beard sitting behind a tall desk. “Welcome to the Grey Fox Inn,” he said pleasantly. “My name is John William Ross, and I’m the owner here. How may I help you ladies?”
“We’re part of the Goodwin-Hill wedding party,” Bess replied. “We’re just checking in.”
“Very good,” John William said with a nod. “You’ll all be on the second floor. Here are your room keys.”
We all picked up our keys—old-fashioned gold ones with fancy handles and long shafts. George leaned in and asked, “So, is it true? Is this place really haunted?”
John William looked taken aback by the question. “Haunted?” he asked.
“Yeah!” George said with enthusiasm. “I read all about it online. This place used to be hopping with ghosts back in the early nineteenth century!”
A strange look passed over John William’s face, but then his expression turned to good humor. “It’s been a while since anyone has come in asking about ghosts,” he said with a chuckle. “This inn hasn’t been graced by those kinds of guests in many, many years.”
George looked crestfallen. “Okay, thanks anyway,” she said with a sigh.
“Were you hoping for a supernatural visitor tonight, George?” I asked as we ascended the staircase with our bags.
“It would have been a nice way to break up all this business of flowers and dresses,” she said. “But they’ve got high-speed Internet, so I guess I’ll live.”
At the top of the stairs, the landing branched out in two directions, and the walls were inset with beautiful wooden shelves filled to capacity with colorful books. I brushed my fingers against their leather and cloth spines, reading titles like Behind Parlor Doors: The Story of Old Charleston and The City of Three Rivers. Bess and George went down the long hall to the right, while my room was on the left-hand side. We agreed to meet up again in the main room at seven thirty and discuss dinner plans, after we’d all had a chance to freshen up. On the way down the hall, I passed a room with a bronze plate on the door that read BRIDAL SUITE. That must be where Charlotte is staying, I thought.
My room was at the end of the hall, number nineteen. I unlocked the door and stepped inside a beautiful, wood-paneled bedroom. Two stained-glass lamps illuminated a large four-poster bed covered with a cheerful butter-yellow quilt, and a set of vintage cherrywood furniture. I pulled my suitcase onto the bed and began unpacking my things and settling in.
After a long, hot shower and a couple of phone calls—both Ned and my dad always insisted I let them know when I arrive somewhere safely—I cast my gaze out the window and saw that evening had crept up on me. A glance at my phone revealed that it was almost seven thirty, time to meet the girls. I left my comfortable room, locking the door behind me, and was about to drop the key into my purse when a muffled scream pierced the silence of the hallway. I whirled toward the source of the sound. It was coming from the bridal suite!