As Cold As Charity

The Ghost Club girls are once more on the case!

Strange things have been happening at Carter's historical Magnolia Inn. Sinister laughter, a self-playing piano, and the eerie, desperate cries of a ghostly child are scaring customers away, so the owner turns to the only people who can help: the Ghost Club girls.

The girls readily accept the paying job and are thrilled when the work includes a weekend stay at the luxury inn. Before long, however, Elsa, Abby, Megan, and Haley realize that the inn is possessed by a malevolent spirit who will stop at nothing to drive them away.

But, once they take on a job, there’s no going back, especially when they discover that there is more than a failing inn at stake. Now more than ever, they will have to rely on their bravery, sleuthing, and paranormal know-how to save the day and themselves.

Click here to purchase As Cold As Charity (The Ghost Club Mysteries)

Chapter One

When Megan stepped over the threshold into the Magnolia Inn, she felt a creeping chill slide down her spine. Wrapping her arms around herself, she took stock of the elegant entrance hall of the oldest house in Carter and tried to decipher the strong, dark vibe she was feeling. She wasn’t sure if the chill she was feeling was from the sudden drop in temperature outside or something entirely unnatural inside.

Doubt began to bubble up inside her.  Even though she and her friends had already worked with two other ghost cases, she wondered if they had what it would took to solve the paranormal mystery in this beautiful, old house? Megan hugged herself tighter with trembling arms. She leaned against her friend Elsa and took a few deep breaths. Calm down, she told herself. You’re not alone.

The doubt began to trickle away and was replaced with a warm, blooming sense of anticipation: It just wasn’t in her nature to dwell too long on negative thoughts. And besides, she reminded herself, she was just too excited about the job before her.

She, Megan Alderman, was one-fourth of Carter, Texas’s first and only Ghost Club. And for the first time, she and her friends had an actual paying job, and they were gathering at the Magnolia Inn to meet the owner and get the low-down on the job. The girls’ shared profession was still new.  In only a few short months, they had already guided one lonely ghost to the other side and evicted a far less friendly entity from the land of the living. Now that Megan knew what she and her friends could achieve, she was ready for more.

Megan didn’t know what kind of haunting they would encounter at the Magnolia Inn. Mr. Peterson had given them very few details. Megan hoped it would be something dramatic and maybe even media-worthy. Already, she was imagining the book deals, talk show appearances, and of course, their own reality show.

Her fantasies were abruptly interrupted by Elsa’s sharp elbow prodding her ribs.

“Earth to Megan,” Elsa whispered.

Megan grinned sheepishly at her friend and mouthed a silent “Sorry.”

The rest of the club had just arrived, and the inn’s owner, Mark Peterson was giving everyone’s hand a shake.

“Let me show you around,” he said after all of the introductions. “We’ll start in the dining room where there’s been a lot of activity.”

He led the Ghost Club girls, Haley, Elsa, Megan and Abby into the large dining room. Elsa’s mom Helen, who had volunteered to chaperone them, trailed behind.

“This used to be a small, dark parlor in the house’s early days” he continued, “but when I started renovations, the first thing I did was to take down the wall that used to be here,” he stopped and gestured at the spot where there once was a wall, “and joined this room with the former dining room. Not long after the wall came down, unexplained things began to happen.”

The girls looked around the large, bright room. It was a beautiful space. Everything was white, from the walls to the curtains, making it feel as if they were standing in a restaurant on a cloud. Each of the round tables was even covered in snowy, white tablecloths upon which sparkled silver candleholders. A tall, fragrant Christmas tree stood in a corner and sparkled with gold and silver ornaments.

“At first, it was just noises. Like the sounds of hammering long after the workmen left. And knocks on the walls. Later, we began to hear voices. I’ll never forget the first time I heard them. I had just gone to my room--I have my own personal space at the back of the inn--when I heard a baby crying in the house. I just had one guest at the time, a businessman from Georgia, and I knew he didn’t have a baby,” he stopped, rubbing a hand across his tired face. His face was covered with dark stubble, and his shirt and pants were rumpled and looked as if he’d slept in them.

“When I started to investigate, the crying suddenly stopped, like someone had switched off a recording. But, as I turned to go back to my room, a man’s deep voice started to laugh. It was so loud that the guest complained about it the next morning.”

“Don’t your guests like staying in a haunted inn?” Haley asked. “Ghost detectives on TV love places like this.”

“I used to watch ghost shows,” he said to the girls, “but after this, I’ll never watch another one for the rest of my life. It’s ruining my business. Sure, people like the idea of staying in a haunted place, but when they can’t get a wink of sleep and end up checking out in the middle of the night, it loses its thrill very quickly.”

“Do the guests leave without paying?” Megan asked.

“No, no. They pay. But they don’t stay as long as they originally planned. And they don’t recommend us to their friends. In the first year, we had a waiting list. This year, we’re practically empty.”

He looked at the girls again and shook his head. His tired eyes were bloodshot and shadowed by purple half-moons.

“I don’t know about this. You girls seem too young to be experts.”

“This isn’t our first case,” Megan said as she briskly handed him a list of references.

“These are our previous clients and associates. Lucy Sheehan is the crime reporter for the Carter Chronicle and is familiar with our work. The next one is Maggie McMaster whose house had a poltergeist. We’ve helped two spirits move on to the afterlife. One was friendly, but the other was not.”

“Is this the only room where things happen?” Abby asked, moving the conversation back to the job at hand. Megan could tell by the way she was pleating her skirt between her fingers that she was a little nervous about the job. In her white blouse and navy skirt, she looked like a small adult.

“At first it was,” he answered, after glancing at the list of references. “But then it started to make noises and such upstairs in the guests’ rooms. That’s why no one wants to stay.”

“When does the activity usually happen?” Elsa asked, tossing her ponytail behind her shoulder.

“At night, which concerns me further because how will you young kids help me then? It’ll be past your bedtimes.”

This “kid” business was beginning to get irritating, but Megan and her friends understood how difficult is was for an adult to take them seriously. Megan knew if they could convince him that they were the real deal, then maybe other customers would too.

“We can do our research here on the weekend,” Haley said with her hands behind her back. She straightened her shoulders, trying to appear taller. “In addition to working here, we also do record searching at the courthouse and the library if we need to know more about the history of a building.”

Mr. Peterson nodded. “Very sensible. I’m sorry to give you girls a hard time. I’m just very worried about my business. I inherited this house from my family, and I want to do right by them.”

“We’ll do our best,” Megan said with her biggest smile.

“I’m glad to hear it. I don’t think there’s anyone else who can help.” He put his hands in the pockets of his khaki pants and sighed. “Alright. Let’s go upstairs.”

They left the dining room and re-entered the foyer. Mark opened a door close to the bottom of the stairs. “This is the library/music room. Sometimes we hear the piano start to play by itself, so you may want to include it in your investigation.”

The girls took turns peeking into the room. The wooden shutters were closed, so the room was dark and filled with shadows cast by the moon’s light. Megan could see that one wall was lined with books and that there were a few cozy armchairs. A baby grand piano, shiny and black, took up the other side of the room.

From here, Mark led them up the steep staircase to the second floor.

“There are three floors,” he explained over his shoulder. “And we have three guest rooms on both the second and third floors. There's the attic as well, but you won't need to go up there.”

“And all of them are haunted?” Abby asked.

“Every room has experienced some activity, but room 202 has seen the most of all the guest rooms.”

He approached the first white door on the left, its gold numbers, 202, hanging crookedly in the center. He straightened the numbers and opened the unlocked door.

“Every morning when the maid checks the rooms, the bed is unmade. Like now.”

The girls could see that the quilt had been pulled roughly off the bed. Haley walked to the bed and touched a pillow.

“There’s a dip in this pillow like someone rested their head here!” she exclaimed. “Do you know if anyone has been in here?”

Mr. Peterson shook his head. “No one has been in here in days, but this is pretty typical.”

“We can get started Friday evening--if that works for you?” Megan proposed. She crossed her fingers behind her for good luck.

Mark studied their earnest faces for a few, tense moments.

“Why don’t you spend the weekend? You, too, Helen. I don’t have any reservations this weekend anyway,” he sighed and scrubbed his scruffy face. “That way, you’ll get the full experience.”

The girls had to resist jumping up and down. They were going to spend the night in a haunted inn!

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As Cold As Charity


As Cold As Charity