A 200-year-old manor house, a disputed suicide, and a cache of stolen jewelry. Somebody’s willing to kill to keep Adam from figuring it all out!
While flipping a 200-year-old manor house in the country, Adam discovers that the house is the site of at least one questionable death and is rumored to be haunted. Adam and Maddy get caught up in the story of the young interracial couple who were torn apart by family, local events, and something sinister that still seems to be stalking the house. It might not be a ghost, but whatever it is, it has the potential to be deadly.
Adam Hoale stopped at the end of the driveway and stared. A coyote stood in the weed-infested gravel, daring him to turn onto the drive. The animal was beautiful, with silver tipped brown fur and large, softly furred ears. The predator’s bushy tail snapped with agitation as it watched him.
Adam had never seen a real live coyote before. He was pretty sure it was a bad omen.
The animal didn’t seem inclined to move on. After a few minutes of mutual staring, Adam slid the window down and stuck his head out. “Scat! Go on, get lost.”
The coyote licked its lips and sat.
“Son of a bitch.” Adam’s cell rang and he answered. Before he could say anything Maddy yelled at him. “Where the hell are you, Adam? We’re starving!”
“I can’t get in the driveway.”
“Why not? Oh shit, did that big tree fall?”
“No.” Adam’s glance slid to the massive walnut tree that leaned precariously over the weed-infused gravel driveway. The tree was half rotted at the base and Adam needed to get a tree guy out to cut it down before it fell. “There’s a coyote sitting here daring me to run it over.”
Silence pulsed for a beat and then, “Run the damn thing over. My blood sugar crashed twenty minutes ago and I’m getting cranky!”
Adam disconnected, murmuring, “Getting cranky. I’d say you flew past cranky a while back.”
Firmly ensconced in his travel position in the passenger seat, Walter whined. The big dog never rode in the car with anything less than four points of contact—butt, two feet, right hip against the back of the seat—and his gaze steadily out the window.
“Sorry buddy. Maddy isn’t mad at us. You know how she gets when she’s hungry.”
Walter sighed, licking his lips. The action reminded Adam of the coyote and he realized Walter would be in danger while they worked at the manor. Adam would have to make sure to keep the big dog close so he didn’t become coyote kibble.
Adam turned back to the driveway and found it empty. “What the…” The coyote seemed to have vanished into thin air. Shaking his head, Adam drove forward.
The driveway was one of Adam’s favorite things about the house. Despite the fact that it needed several loads of gravel, it was a beautiful approach to the elegant house. Three quarters of a mile long, it wound through a dense, rough-hewn landscape of trees and undergrowth. As he rounded the final curve to the house, a small, picturesque lake appeared on the right, its glossy surface dotted with water lilies and a pair of swans that were meaner than Adam’s alcoholic Aunt Minnie in rehab.
But they sure were pretty.
Since Maddy had talked him into buying the huge old manor house to flip, they’d been inundated with bad luck. A tainted well, corroded pipes, rotted wires, and a snake in the attic as big around as Adam’s wrist, were only a few of the problems they’d faced since starting work on the old house.
He had no idea how that snake had gotten into the attic.
They hadn’t really been able to do much actual construction work because the permits he’d filed had gotten lost. Twice. Mostly all they’d done since taking possession was removing debris, cleaning, and painting.
Adam parked the truck on a circular drive of crumbling asphalt and jumped out, grabbing two large, white bags before Walter could step on them in his eagerness to unload. The front door slammed open and Bud came bounding down the steps. He grabbed the bags. “I need to get back in there before Maddy grabs a kitchen knife and goes psycho on us.”
Adam laughed. “Just throw a burger at her and retreat. She’ll be fine as soon as the food hits her stomach.”
Adam looked around for Walter. The big dog was in the side yard, which they’d finally hacked down from a wild jungle to a moderately cultivated rural outback just that morning. Mounds of damp grass and weeds still waited to be raked into piles and gathered up. Adam sighed. He’d do that after lunch.
Walter suffered from poop anxiety. When he was making his offering to the Earth goddess he didn’t like to be hurried or observed. He circled in the shaggy grass, did the hunch, and gave Adam the side eye in warning. Adam turned away but didn’t go inside. After seeing the coyote he wasn’t about to leave Walter outside alone.
Adam turned at the crunch of tires on gravel and watched the tree line, waiting to see who was arriving at the manor.
He didn’t recognize the wide, low-slung, ancient rust bucket that finally poked its formerly light blue nose from the trees and crept slowly toward him. He could just make out an old guy hat bobbing a few inches above the steering wheel.
Walter finished his offering and came running, his tail wagging enthusiastically. He’d never met a visitor he didn’t like. Unless the visitor came in the dead of night and skulked. Walter was very sensitive to skulking.
The front door slammed open again and Maddy came out. She was taking a huge bite from her burger when Adam turned to look at her. “Feel better?”
“I’mph guttinth therph.” She tucked a french fry in with the burger. Adam wasn’t sure where she’d been storing the fry.
“Glad to hear it.” Adam jerked his head toward the car, which still crawled toward them, some distance away. “You recognize this car?”
She swallowed, shaking her head. “No. But judging from the rate of speed I’d say the driver is about ninety years old.”
The male swan, Mike, bobbed his head and trumpeted, his large wings flapping as the car drove past. The female swam closer, as if she recognized the visitor. “Mike and Sue seem to know him.”
Maddy grimaced. “What stupid names for such elegant animals.”
“Let’s see if you feel that way when Mike chases you across the yard. He’s lucky I didn’t name him Spot.”
Maddy shook her head, thoroughly disgusted. “Pull on your big boy panties, Adam. They’re just birds.”
“Damn big birds. Even Walter won’t go near the lake and he loves water.”
The rust bucket groaned to a stop behind Adam’s truck and gave off a warning shot before settling into silence. A full minute passed before the door creaked open and a tiny, stooped figure in a fedora climbed slowly out.
Adam and Maddy walked over to greet him.
Adam stuck his hand out. “Hello. I’m Adam Hoale and this is my partner, Maddy Rodgers.”
The elderly gentleman did indeed look ninety if he was a day. He clasped Adam’s hand in a dry, crinkled grip and smiled, showing a full mouth of crooked, yellow teeth. “Nice to meet you, son.”
Nodding at Maddy, the old man pulled the fedora off his head and a few wisps of white hair danced in the sun. The scalp beneath the wisps was pink and age speckled, looking as if he’d forgotten to wear his hat or sunscreen the last time he’d toddled around in his garden. He took Maddy’s hand in both of his, pumping it and grinning. “My, you are a pretty thing. Such a nice couple.”
Walter snuffled the man’s hand and received a gentle pat on the head for his bad manners. “Hello, young man.”
Adam opened his mouth to explain that he and Maddy weren’t that kind of partners, but decided against it. How did you explain to a man from the greatest generation that one of them liked men and the other liked women, just not the ones he expected?
“I’m Edgar Reeves. I used to be the caretaker here at Bilsworth Manor.”
Maddy’s eyes widened with delight. “I’m so happy to meet you, Mr. Reeves! I have so many questions about the house, its history, the people who lived here…that type of thing. Would you mind if I picked your brain?”
He laughed, clearly pleased by her enthusiasm. “Not at all, young lady. I’d be happy to tell you about the old place.” He turned and looked up at the huge, red brick manor house with its tall, formerly white columns. “I have a lifetime full of memories tied up in this place.” His voice warbled with emotion and Maddy and Adam shared a look.
Maddy tucked her arm through Edgar’s and turned him toward the house. “Let’s go inside and sit. I’m afraid it’s a little rough in there, but I can fix you a cup of tea at least.”
“Tea sounds lovely.”