A Ghost Hunter Mystery
M.J. Holliday and her crew interrupt the frantic schedule of their reality TV show, Ghoul Getters, and hotfoot it to New Mexico, where a dreadful demon is waging tribal warfare. Same Whitefeather- M.J.'s spirit guide-urgently needs her help to stop this evil spirit from wiping out the descendants of his tribe. It doesn't take a psychic to predict that M.J.'s going to have a devil of a time making New Mexico a demon-free zone.
I’ve always believed in ghosts. Actually, I had no choice in the matter. My childhood was full of encounters with disembodied voices, strange blue flashes, flickering shadows at the edge of my peripheral vision, and odd-looking orbs appearing right over my head.
And then, of course, my mother died and her ghost came to see me.
I was eleven going on twelve when her cancer finally won the war it’d waged so savagely against her. I knew the instant that she passed, even though every adult in my world had tried to shield me from the knowledge that it was coming. I remember playing with my new best friend, Gilley Gillespie, on the back porch of his house in beautiful Valdosta, Georgia. The memory of that day is as clear as if it happened yesterday.
Even back then his mother had indulged Gilley’s rather effeminate tastes. Gil had one of the best collections of Barbie and Ken dolls you’ve ever seen and we played with those dolls almost constantly.
In fact, on that beautiful early fall morning twenty-odd years ago, that’s exactly what we were doing. While Gilley was setting Ken up on a blind date with G.I. Joe, I’d been happily working Barbie into a new pencil skirt, and just like that, I knew my mother was gone.
I remember dropping the Barbie and getting to my feet, the shock from the certainty of Mama’s passing crushing something fragile inside of me. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, and I certainly couldn’t think past the terrible heartache building inside me.
My vision had clouded and stars had begun to dance in front of my eyes and I felt myself sway on wobbly knees. Somewhere nearby, I could sense that Gilley had noticed my strange posture and was calling my name, but I was unable to reply, or even acknowledge him. I felt like I was dying, and I didn’t know how I would ever be able to live in a world without my mother. My only thought was to pray that she’d somehow find a way to stay with me.
And then, as if by some miracle, my silent prayer had been answered and my mother appeared standing in the doorway right in front of me.
“Breathe, Mary Jane,” she’d said softly, coming quickly to my side. “It’s okay, dumplin’. Just breathe.”
I’d managed to take a very ragged breath, and with it my vision had cleared. I’d blinked and she hadn’t vanished and that crushing heartache inside me eased. Maybe I’d gotten it wrong? Maybe she hadn’t died after all?
“I have to go away for a spell, sweetheart,” she’d said, that Southern lilt in her speech so sweet and caring.
“Mama?” I’d said as she’d knelt down in front of me and placed her warm hands on the sides of my cheeks.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t stay with you, Mary Jane,” she’d whispered tenderly, bending in to kiss my forehead. And then she’d looked me right in the eyes and added, “I know what you can see, and I know what you can hear. I also know that your daddy and your nanny, Miss Tallulah, don’t want to believe that you’re a special gifted child, and not just imaginin’ things. But you are special, dumplin’. I’ve known it from the day you were born. And during this whole time I been fightin’ the cancer, I’ve known in my heart that if I couldn’t beat it, then you’d still be able to hear me when I come round to visit with you.
“I’ll never really leave you, puddin’,” she’d assured me when I’d started to cry. “Anytime you need me, you just call out to your mama and I’ll come, so don’t be scared and don’t be sad, you hear?”
I’d nodded with a loud sniffle, trying hard to be brave for her, and she’d let go of me and stood up. I’d noticed then how beautiful she’d looked. How radiant and gloriously healthy she’d seemed. Such a far cry from the bone-thin pale woman who’d occupied her bed for the last year.
A little gasp from behind me had told me that Gilley could see her too. She’d looked at him then, and she’d said, “Now, Gilley Gillespie, you don’t be afraid neither. I need you to stay close to my Mary Jane, you hear? You be a good friend to her, ’cause I believe she’ll be needin’ a real good friend for a spell.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Gil had squeaked obediently.
And then my mother had looked one last time at me with such tenderness and love that I’d nearly shattered inside. She’d blown me a kiss, mouthed, “I love you,” and then she’d vanished into thin air.
Gilley and I had never once spoken about that morning, and I carried the memory of it like a safely guarded secret. It was such a bittersweet memory that to tell anyone about it might forever taint it in some way, which is why I told no one, and I pushed it to the back of my thoughts to keep it safe and pure.
So, I couldn’t imagine why, after all these years, I’d be dreaming about it on the eve of leaving Ireland for Dunkirk to film the next segment of our reality-TV show, Ghoul Getters, but here I was all grown up now having a dream about visiting that same porch back in Valdosta, which was once again scattered with Barbies, Ken dolls, and tiny clothes, and there was my mother, standing in the doorway, looking every bit as lovely as I remembered.
“Hello, Mary Jane,” she said softly, almost shyly.
I blinked—just like when I was eleven. “Mama?”
My mother stepped forward, her smile filling up the room and my heart. “I’ve been watchin’ you,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. “My, what a lovely lady you’ve turned into!”
I opened my mouth to speak, but the emotion of seeing her was too much and the words just wouldn’t come.
Mama was kind enough to ignore that and simply stepped closer. Taking my hand, she said, “I am so proud of you, Mary Jane. You just light me up with how smart you are and how courageous you’ve become. Why, I remember when you were afraid of your own shadow!”
I swallowed hard and attempted a smile. In recent years I’d played on my natural psychic-medium talents, and become a credible ghostbuster. While working on the Ghoul Getters show, I’d faced and fought back against some of the most fearsome poltergeists you could ever imagine.
“Lord, Mary Jane!” my mother exclaimed knowingly. “I’ve watched you tackle murderous spirits, and vengeful witches, and now even a phantom!”
My chest filled with the pride and love from my mother. But just then her beaming face turned serious, and she seemed to hesitate—as if she was about to choose her next words carefully. “There is a mission about to be offered to you that I know you’ll accept, honey child. One that involves the most horrendous evil imaginable.”
I blinked again. Was she talking about the ghosts in the haunted village in Dunkirk—the next place on the Ghoul Getters agenda? “I’ve already read the literature,” I said, trying to reassure her. “This time I’m going in prepared, and honestly, Mama, I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle.”
My mother squeezed my hand, however, and sighed heavily. “Nothing can prepare you for this, Mary Jane. But I know better than to try and talk you out of it. Sam has come to me, you know.”
I shook my head, utterly confused. Was she talking about the deceased grandfather of my fellow ghostbuster and current boyfriend, Heath? “You mean, Sam Whitefeather?”
My mother nodded. “He’s tellin’ me he’s your new spirit guide.”
I smiled. Sam had made himself noticeable to me shortly after I’d met his grandson, and since then he’d worked hard to keep me from getting too beat up during our ghost hunts.
“He needs your help,” my mother continued. “He wants my blessin’ before he asks you to help his people. I’ve seen how Sam’s been lookin’ out for you, and how he’s even saved your life a time or two. For that, I’m truly grateful, but I just don’t know that I can give my blessin’ on this.”
“Mama,” I said, trying to sort through this cryptic bundle of information and decipher why my mother looked so uncharacteristically worried. “I don’t understand. Are you telling me Sam won’t be coming with us to Dunkirk?”
My mother didn’t answer me. Instead she stroked my hair, stared deep into my eyes as if she was considering telling me more, and then abruptly looked over her shoulder. I followed her gaze and saw that Sam Whitefeather was now standing in the doorway. He seemed to be waiting for something like an invitation or permission to enter the room.
“May I, Maddie?” he asked, bowing formally to my mother.
Without answering him, my mother turned back to me and cupped my face in those familiar warm hands. “Stay safe, Mary Jane,” she whispered, leaning in to kiss me on the forehead. “And under no circumstances are you to even think about joining me for a very, very long time, you hear?”
I nodded, still wondering what this was all about, but my mother turned then and moved away from me. “Mama, wait!” I called after her, but she simply walked over to Sam, placed a gentle hand on his arm, and said, “Protect her as much as possible or you’ll have me to answer to, Samuel Whitefeather.”
And then she was gone.
It was another moment before I could tear my eyes away from the place where she’d been standing to look directly into Sam Whitefeather’s grim-looking face. “What’s this all about?” I managed to ask.
Sam studied me for several moments, as if he was privately weighing whether or not to fill me in. “My grandson is about to receive a call. His uncle has been murdered.”
I gasped. “Oh, no!”
Sam’s shoulders sagged a little. “I didn’t know until it was too late, M. J. The demon used dark magic to obscure itself from us, and by the time we understood that it was free, my son was dead.”
My hand flew to my mouth. “Oh, Sam! I’m so, so sorry!”
Vaguely I remembered Heath talking at length about his three uncles, and I wondered which one of them had been murdered. I knew his favorite uncle was Milton, who’d been like a second father to Heath, and I held my breath hoping that it wasn’t him.
“He’s stuck,” Sam said sadly, referring to the murdered man. “I’ve tried with our ancestors to reach out to him, but he’s been through a terrible trauma and he’s trapped now by his own fear.”
I opened my mouth to assure him that Heath and I would certainly do what we could to help the poor man’s soul cross over, but Sam held up his hand. “I know you’re going to volunteer to do what you can,” he said to me. “But I want you to know what you’re getting into by volunteering.”
“What am I getting into, Sam?”
My spirit guide sighed, as if the weight of the spirit world now rested on his shoulders. “There’s a terrible evil afoot amongst my people. It’ll kill again. And it’ll keep killing until every last descendant from my tribe is wiped from your world.”
“How do we stop it?”
“You must find the person who now controls it, and you must kill them.”
I sucked in a breath. What had he just asked me to do? “You’re joking!” And when Sam’s serious expression didn’t falter, I backed away from him. “Sam!” I said. “I can’t kill someone! That’s murder!”
“No, M. J., in this case it’s definitely not murder. This demon can only be summoned by a willing and evil soul. Sending the person to jail won’t stop the killings, and if you don’t do as I say, then the demon will rise again and again until it kills all my children and grandchildren.”
I was shaking my head vehemently. I wouldn’t do it. Hell, I couldn’t do it.
“And,” Sam added, “once it’s killed all of my family, it will come after you.”
“Me?!” I squeaked. “Why me?!”
“Because I’m your spirit guide, and like it or not, M. J., you are now a member of my tribe.”
Sam seemed to gather himself then and he began to move over to the doorway. “Tell my grandson what I’ve told you,” he said over his shoulder. “He’s about to have a terrible morning. Heath and his uncle Milton were very close. Heath won’t be much help to you as you work to change your plans, but he must participate in bringing down the demon and the person who controls it.”
My mouth fell open. Sam was assuming a lot right now, but my mind was so muddled with his statements and the visit from my mother that I was having a hard time coming up with a reply.
Sam paused then in the doorway and turned back to me. “The others may choose not to come along,” he said. “But Gilley must accompany you. Your mother was right all those years ago when she left you in his care. He’ll do what’s necessary to help keep you safe. And so will I.”
With that, Sam disappeared and I woke up to a ringing telephone.
Climbing out of my slumber with the dream still very much in my thoughts, I heard Heath’s hand drop heavily on the phone and a moment later his throaty voice said, “Yeah?”
My eyes flew open and my heart began to hammer hard in my chest. Heath was lying on his side with his back to me. I sat up and leaned over him to try to get his attention. “Heath!” I whispered urgently, knowing what he was about to learn.
Heath’s eyes were closed; he was clearly still half-asleep. “Ari?” Heath said, his eyes blinking a little. “Ari, is that you? Why’re you crying?”
I squeezed his arm. “Please, honey! Give me the phone!” I didn’t want him to hear the terrible news like this—half-asleep and jarred awake. I wanted him to have a minute to brace himself.
But it was too late. In the next moment I heard Heath suck in a breath and he sat up so fast that I was tossed to the side. “No!” he gasped into the phone. “Ari, there’s got to be a mistake! Not Milton!”
I watched with pain in my heart as the caller repeated the information and Heath’s handsome face seemed to crumple in on itself. His grief was quick and total.
I eased the phone out of his hand and spoke to the caller, but Ari—whoever that was—wasn’t there. I could hear the phone being passed to someone else, a man who didn’t identify himself but asked me who I was. I told him and then said that Heath couldn’t talk right now, but that we’d call back soon for more details. After hanging up the phone, I just hugged Heath for a very long time. I know about losing a loved one better than most people my age, and I also know what a hug from someone you care about can do to ease the terrible grief.
Later, while Heath packed, I went in search of Gilley, our Ghoul Getters producer, and the rest of the crew, already bracing myself for the argument to follow. They wouldn’t be happy that we’d have to put Dunkirk on hold, but I’d make sure they knew they had little choice in the matter. I was going with Heath to New Mexico to attend his uncle’s funeral and figure out who or what had killed him. And if the other members of my special team wanted to tag along while we kicked some demon butt, all the better.
Heath, Gilley, and I landed at the tiny Santa Fe airport around midnight. I couldn’t tell you the day; I’d lost all sense of time. I know only that when I looked at the clock on the airport wall and saw that both hands were pointing straight north, I felt a shiver of foreboding go through me.
Next to me, Gilley checked his pulse, then reached for my hand to lift it to his forehead. “Do I feel hot to you?”
In our struggle west to Santa Fe, we’d had the misfortune of spending forty-eight solid hours at Chicago O’Hare, stranded by a snowstorm. As all the local hotels were booked to the rafters, Gilley had been sent out as a scout in the jam-packed terminal to find us a spot to settle down for the long wait until we could get a flight out. He’d come back triumphantly announcing that he’d found room for the three of us at the back of the terminal right next to four businessmen. I wondered what the catch was and soon discovered why there was available space in such a coveted section of the airport. The four businessmen were all sick with the flu and each of them was sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and hacking, creating a wide berth around them. Of course we discovered this only after we’d collapsed on the floor exhausted and spent, too tired to get up and look for something else. We kept as much distance from the men as we could, but I have to admit that it was like hanging out with four of the seven dwarfs, Hackey, Wheezy, Coughy, and Sneezy.
Gil, of course, had positioned himself as far away from the dwarfs as he could get—using me as a human shield—and oddly, Heath and I had suffered no ill effects, but Gil now had a headache and a slight temperature. “I’m sure you’re fine,” I told him. I’m a pretty good liar when I need to be.
“I don’t feel warm?” he asked.
I eyed Gilley’s pale face and the dark circles under his eyes. “You feel and look just fine.”
Gil rubbed at his temples again. “Then this is bad,” he whispered.
“A headache this killer isn’t normal, M. J.”
“You’re probably just dehydrated.”
“I had two bottles of water on the plane.”
“Then it’s probably exhaustion,” I told him, willing the baggage carousel to start moving so we could get our bags and be on our way.
“I slept at the airport and the last three hours of our flight,” he said, more to himself than to me. I tensed. I had a feeling where this was headed. Sure enough, a moment later Gilley got right up into my personal space. “Do you think I’m having a stroke?”
I tried not to laugh. Really I did . . . but it was impossible not to. “Gil,” I said once I’d gotten control of myself. “You’re not having a stroke.”
“How do you know?” he demanded, inching his face closer to me. He then raised one eyebrow, lowered it, and did the same with his other eyebrow. “Did both my eyebrows move?” he asked me. Before I could even answer, he gasped again, “Ohmigod! Is my speech slurred?”
“Gil,” I said levelly.
He slapped his cheeks one at a time. “I think my face is going numb!”
“Gil,” I repeated a little more firmly.
Gilley extended both arms and wiggled his fingers. “It’s my right side!” he squeaked. “It’s losing feeling!”
Heath came up next to me after visiting the restroom, and Gilley nearly jumped him. Grabbing him by the lapels of his coat, he cried, “Heath! Heath!”
Heath pulled his head back and mimicked, “Gilley, Gilley.”
“Brace yourself,” I muttered.
Gil pulled Heath closer. “Is one side of my mouth sagging?”
Heath eyed me in a “What the . . . what?” kind of way.
“He thinks he’s having a stroke,” I said.
“My speech is slurred,” Gilley told him. “And I can’t feel one side of my face! And my right eyebrow won’t go up!”
“It’s up now,” Heath told him. “Both of ’em are up, actually.”
Gilley’s brow plummeted into a deep furrow. “Gah!” he spat, and stomped off to the restroom, likely to have a look in the mirror and see for himself.
“What was that about?” Heath asked while we watched Gilley’s dash to the men’s room. “Or don’t I want to know?”
“He’s got a headache,” I said. Like that would explain everything.
“Ahhh,” Heath said. “And he went with stroke over tumor?”
“Yeah, I know. It could’ve gone either way with him.”
“Heath!” someone behind us called.
We turned to see a couple hurrying toward us. The woman was tall and lean with beautiful angular features. I knew right away she and Heath were related, especially when she launched herself into his arms and hugged him fiercely.
I stood there awkwardly with the man who’d accompanied her—he was also tall, with dark hair, black eyes, and a warm smile. He was dressed in surgical scrubs and a thick sheepskin coat. “Hi,” he said, extending his hand to me. “I’m Brody Perez.”
I returned his smile and extended my own hand. “M. J. Holliday.”
Heath and the woman stepped back from each other and I was touched to see both of them crying a little. “It’s been too long!” she said to him, still holding his hand tightly.
Heath turned to me. “Em,” he said, using his new nickname for me. “This is Arianna Perez. My cousin, but really more like my sister.”
Arianna let go of Heath’s hand and stepped forward to greet me with a hug. “I’ve heard so much about you, M. J.!” she gushed. “And I’m so glad to finally meet you!”
I’m not really a hugger, and I’d heard almost nothing about Arianna other than she was the one who’d broken the news about Milton to Heath. Still, I went with it, patting her on the back and saying something like, “Yes, but what a shame we had to meet under such sad circumstances.”
She stepped away from me and nodded somberly, wiping at another tear. Just then Gilley joined our little group. “What’d I miss?” he asked.
“Gilley,” Heath said, “meet Ari and Brody Perez. My cousins.”
Gilley shook Ari’s hand first, and when he swiveled to take Brody’s, he must have caught sight of the surgical scrubs. “Are you a doctor?” he asked abruptly.
I barely held in a groan. “Here we go,” I muttered to Heath.
Brody chuckled. “I am. I work at Santa Fe Indian Hospital.”
Gilley sagged against him dramatically. “Oh, thank you, Baby Jesus!” he said. “Dr. Brody, I’m having a stroke.”
Positioning myself behind Gilley, I shook my head vigorously to gain Brody’s attention, then made swirling motions with my finger near my ear.
Poor Brody looked like a deer caught in headlights. “Uh . . . ,” he said.
“No, really, Doctor,” Gilley insisted. “I am. My speech is slurred and I think my right side is going numb.”
“Your speech is slurred?” Brody asked, looking from Gilley to me (still shaking my head and making the “He’s crazy!” sign), then back to Gil again.
“Yes, my speech is slurred!” Gilley said, like it was obvious. “Can’t you tell?”
“Well, I have a headache too,” Gil said, like that was the defining symptom for a stroke.
Brody appeared to be a nice guy, because he put on his serious face and said, “What other symptoms are you having?”
Gilley rattled off about twenty, including the foot cramp he’d gotten that morning.
Brody said, “Well, you do look a little pale to me.”
Gilley turned to glare pointedly at me, before returning his attention back to the good doctor.
“I have a good test for patients who think they might be having a stroke, though,” he said.
“A CT scan?” Gil asked hopefully.
I shook my head vigorously behind Gilley’s back again.
“Uh . . . no,” Brody said. “It’s more like, can you smile and say your name at the same time?”
“Of course I can.”
The corners of Brody’s mouth quirked. “No, I mean, can you do that for me right now?”
I couldn’t see Gil, but I knew he was flashing his pearly whites in a tight smile as he said, “Gilley Gilleshpie.”
Brody pointed at him. “Well, Gilley Gilleshpie, I feel confident that you’re not having a stroke.”
“Gillespie,” Gil corrected.
“My last name. It’s Gillespie, not Gilleshpie.”
“Okay, then,” Brody said, and I could tell he was quickly tiring of my neurotic best friend.
Blissfully, at that moment the baggage carousel began to turn. We got our bags and gear and wearily headed for the exit.
Looking around the largely empty terminal, Ari asked Heath, “Aren’t there more of you?”
“Our producer and the rest of the TV crew had to fly back to L.A. to iron out some contract stuff now that we’re switching networks,” Heath explained.
“And they didn’t want to come to a funeral,” Gilley muttered under his breath so that only I could hear. I was about to elbow him, but the poor guy really did look pale. I knew he was likely coming down with the same flu that had plagued the dwarfs in Chicago.
A bit later when we were all piled in Brody’s roomy SUV, Ari turned in her seat to peer at us and asked, “Where to?”
I looked at Heath expectantly. “Aren’t we staying at your place?”
Even in the dim light I could see him redden. “It’s being remodeled. My cousin’s been working on it while I’ve been away, and he sent me a text right before we boarded that it isn’t ready yet.”
“Which is Ray’s way of saying he hasn’t touched it since you left,” Ari quipped.
Heath’s eyes darted to her. “You’ve seen it?”
Ari nodded. “He’s taken it down to the studs, Heath, but he’s done nothing else.”
Heath’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “That idiot,” he grumbled.
“I told you not to hire him,” Ari said.
“He’s family,” Heath told her. “I had to hire him.”
“Yeah, well, your poor mom hasn’t had a space to call her own since October.”
“I thought your mom had her own place?” I said.
Heath rubbed his eyes tiredly. “She sold it and we thought it would only take a month or two for Ray to finish. She’s been staying in Phoenix with my stepdad’s sister.”
I thought it odd that none of the Whitefeathers had offered Heath’s mom a place to stay, but I had an inkling that Heath’s family had quite a few lines of contention within it, so I didn’t ask. Heath would probably tell me when he was ready.
“Is there a hotel or something close by?” Gil asked. I knew he just wanted to get somewhere so that he could lie down.
I fished around in my purse and came up with some headache medicine for him along with the last of my bottled water. “Take two,” I instructed.
“I guess we could stay anywhere close,” Heath said while I tended to Gil. “There’s that Holiday Inn on Cerrillos, right?”
“Holiday Inn it is,” Brody said, placing the car in drive.
“When’s the funeral?” Gilley asked abruptly, handing me back the empty water bottle.
“The day after tomorrow, Gil,” Heath said. Clearing his throat uncomfortably, he added, “But it’s for tribal members only.”
Gilley’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to say something (probably something inappropriate), so I quickly said, “Of course, Heath. We understand. Don’t we, Gil?”
Gil’s eyes glared at me, but his mouth formed a toothy smile. “Gilley Gilleshpie,” he said softly.
I focused back on Heath and took his hand. “Will that give your mom enough time to get here?”
Heath nodded. “She’s still trying to find a cheap fare, but, yeah, come hell or high water, she’ll be here.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Ari and her husband exchanging a look.
“What?” Heath asked, obviously catching it too.
Ari tucked a long lock behind her ear. “My dad doesn’t want your mom to come,” she said meekly.
Heath reflexively tightened his grip on my hand and I winced. “I expected as much from Uncle Vernon. What does Rex say?” he asked.
Ari lifted her eyes then and smiled. “He says my dad’s a mule and of course both you and your mom should be there.”
The tension of Heath’s hand around mine lessened. “Oh, we’ll be there,” he said stubbornly.
Ari’s smile widened. “We want you there. And my dad’s only got one vote. Aunt Bev’s is the important vote and she definitely wants you and Aunt Serena there. I think if your mom just shows up, no one in the tribe is gonna complain. I mean, it’s her brother after all.”
Heath nodded, but there was still a stiff set to his shoulders. I didn’t know what had happened within the Whitefeather family to cause such a rift, and I didn’t really feel it was my place to ask about it. I wanted to give Heath time to tell me for himself. And I also knew that tonight was not the time to talk about such things. We needed to get some shut-eye before we all fell over from exhaustion.
At that moment Ari’s cell phone chirped. I tried not to listen as she took the call, but the rest of the car was quiet and there was no avoiding it.
“Hi, Ma,” she said. “Yeah. We just picked him up. We’re taking him to the Holiday Inn for the night so that he and his friends can get some sleep. What’s that?”
I turned my head and looked out the window. The terrain was very dark, not even a hint of moonlight to give any description to the land we traveled past.
“No . . . ,” I heard Arianna say. “When was the last time Molly heard from her?”
Heath took my hand again and brought it to his lips. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said.
I leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. “Me too.”
“Has anyone called her work?” Arianna said.
My attention swiveled to the front of the car. Something seemed off.
“Maybe she stopped off for a drink or something and she can’t hear her phone in the bar,” Arianna said next.
I nudged my chin in her direction. “What’s up?” I mouthed.
Heath turned his head and focused on his cousin. “Ari?” he whispered, and she looked over her shoulder at him. “Something wrong?”
She held up a finger and said, “Yeah, okay, Ma. Let me know when you hear from her, okay?”
“What’s up?” Brody asked the moment she’d tucked her cell away.
“Beverly isn’t home yet and Molly’s worried.”
Heath leaned over and whispered, “Bev’s Milton’s ex-wife, but the two were talking about reconciling right before Milton died. Molly is their daughter.”
“Ah,” I said.
Brody put on his turn signal and the bright lights of the Holiday Inn lit up the car’s interior with an unflattering glow. I could only imagine how fetching I must be in the harsh light after three straight days of traveling, airports, and only about seven hours’ sleep total.
Brody helped us with our bags, and while Heath hugged and said good night to his cousin and her husband, I got us two rooms and a wake-up call for ten. It was now much closer to one a.m. than midnight and I was very much looking forward to those nine hours of sleep.
After collecting our key cards, I waited for Heath, waved to Ari and Brody, and tried to keep Gilley conscious long enough to see him to his room. That last task was a lot harder than you might think.
Finally, about fifteen minutes later, Heath and I were able to crawl under the sheets and sink into a wonderful slumber. I had no idea that it would be the last truly peaceful night’s sleep I’d get for the next several days.
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