Authors: Karen White
The Color of Light
Learning to Breathe
Pieces of the Heart
The Memory of Water
The Lost Hours
On Folly Beach
The Beach Trees
After the Rain
The Time Between
A Long Time Gone
The Sound of Glass
The Forgotten Room
(cowritten with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig)
Spinning the Moon
The Tradd Street Series
The House on Tradd Street
The Girl on Legare Street
The Strangers on Montagu Street
Return to Tradd Street
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Copyright Â© 2017 by Harley House Books, LLC
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: White, Karen (Karen S.) author.
Title: The guests on South Battery/Karen White.
Description: First Edition. | New York: Berkley, 2017. | Series: Tradd Street; 5
Identifiers: LCCN 2016032087 (print) | LCCN 2016038647 (ebook) | ISBN 9780451475237 (hardback) | ISBN 9780698193000 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Women real estate agentsâFiction. | Women psychicsâFiction. | Haunted housesâFiction. | Historic buildingsâSouth CarolinaâCharlestonâ Fiction. | Charleston (S.C.)âFiction. | BISAC: FICTION/Contemporary Women. | FICTION/Ghost. | FICTION/Mystery & Detective/Women Sleuths. | GSAFD: Ghost stories.
Classification: LCC PS3623.H5776 G84 2017 (print) | LCC PS3623.H5776 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6âdc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016032087
First Edition: January 2017
Jacket art by Stephen Magsig
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
who loves Charleston as much as I
Thank you to the City of Charleston and its lovely inhabitants, both living and gone, who have inspired this
here is no escaping the dead. On the slender peninsula that is Charleston, we cannot help being surrounded by them, packed as they are into ancient cemeteries behind ornate iron fencing. Beneath our streets. And under our homes and parking garages. Land is at a premium here, and it was inevitable that over the course of time the living and the dead would eventually rub elbows. Most residents of the Holy City are blissfully unaware of its former citizens who have passed on but whose names and homes we share and whose presence lingers still. Others, like me, are not so lucky.
It's one of the reasons why I've always been such a light sleeper. Even before I became the owner of a needy, money-sucking historic home on Tradd Street, and then the mother of twins, I always slept half awake, anticipating a cold hand on my shoulder or a shadow by the window. For years I'd learned how to ignore them, to pretend I'd felt only a draft, had seen only a shift in the light as morning nudged the night. But that's the thing with pretending. It doesn't make them go away.
Which is why when the shrill of the telephone jerked me fully awake I was already reaching for the nightstand to answer it before I remembered that we no longer kept a house phone in our bedroom.
Sitting straight up in bed, I stared at my nightstand, where my cell phone lay, its face glowing with an unexpected blue light, the ring tone not my usual “Mamma Mia” but identical to the tone of the now-defunct landline handset.
Fumbling to pick it up before it woke my sleeping companions, I slid my thumb across the screen and answered, “Hello?”
A distant, hollow sound, like a small rock being dropped into a deep well, echoed in my ear.
“Hello?” I said again. “Grandmother?” She'd been dead since I was a little girl, but it wouldn't have been the first time she'd called me since then. Yet I knew it wasn't her. When she called I always had a sense of peace and well-being. Of love and protection. Not the feeling of unseen insects crawling over my scalp. And somewhere, in that deep dark space at the other end of the line, was the sound of groaning nails and something being pried loose, and a tinny note, almost indecipherable, vibrating in the empty air.
I pulled the phone from my ear and hit
, noticing the local 843 area code but not recognizing the number. Placing the phone back on the nightstand, I looked at the video monitor, which showed my ten-month-old twins sleeping peacefully in their nursery down the hall, then turned to Jack. I was met with the wet nose and large eyes of my dog, General Lee. I'd inherited him along with the house and housekeeper, Mrs. Houlihan.
Despite my protestations that I didn't like dogs, I now found myself the owner of three. Even in his advanced years, General Lee had proven himself quite virile and had fathered a litter of puppies, two of which had been given to us as a wedding present the previous year. With the addition of a husband, two babies, and a stepdaughter, I barely recognized my life anymore and had to pinch myself on more than one occasion to make me believe it was true.
Which is why the phone call unnerved me more than it should have. The restless dead had left me alone for almost a year. It had been a blissful period when I'd begun to settle into my life as a new wife and
mother without the distraction of spirits needing me for something. I'd even begun to hope that the dead had forgotten about me.
General Lee crawled on top of my pillow, above my head, allowing me to see Jack's face in the soft glow of the monitor. I still couldn't believe that he was my husband. That the irritating, opinionated, overly charming, and irresistible bestselling author Jack Trenholm was my husband and the father of my children. He was still irritating and opinionated, especially where I was concerned, but that somehow added to his attraction.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he slurred, his voice thick with sleep. He reached over and pulled me toward him, spoon position, and I melted into his warmth. His lips found my neck, and the rest of my skin seemed to jump to attention, hoping to be next in line. “Who was that on the phone?”
“Hmm?” I said, forgetting what the word “phone” meant.
“The phone. It rang. Was it important?”
“Hmm,” I repeated, the sound coming from deep in my throat. I'd already started to turn in his arms, my hands sliding up his chest, any phone call long since forgotten.
“Because I was wondering if it was your boss, checking to see if you were still planning on coming in today. Before your maternity leave, you were always there by seven on Mondays.”
My eyes flew wide-open, his words the equivalent of ice-cold water thrown on my head. I jerked up in bed, receiving an unhappy groan from General Lee, and picked up my phone again. Five after seven. I looked across the room, where I'd set three different alarm clocks, all the old-fashioned wind-up kind, just in case the electricity went out in the middle of the night and my phone battery died.
I stared at them for a long moment before Jack sighed. “You really should keep your glasses nearby. I've seen you wearing them often enough that it wouldn't be a shock.” He sat up so he could see better. “That's odd. It looks like they're all stopped at ten minutes past four.”
I leaped from the bed, not really registering what he'd just said. It
was my first day back after nearly a year away on extended maternity leave. It was supposed to have been only until the babies were three months old, but our inability to find a nanny who would stay longer than two weeks had proven not only baffling but problematic.
I ran to the bathroom and turned on the shower, then retreated to my closet, where I had laid out my outfitâcomplete with shoes and accessoriesâthe night before. I threw off my nightgown, a slinky silk thing Jack had bought for me that didn't resemble the old high-necked flannel gowns of my single days, folded it neatly on my dressing table bench, and jumped in the shower.
Five minutes later I was brushing my teeth while simultaneously buttoning a blouse that didn't want to be buttoned and zipping up a skirt with an equally reluctant zipper. I stared at my reflection in the full-length mirror, too horrified by what I saw to allow my gaze to linger very long. I could hope that everybody in the office had gone blind and wouldn't notice my unfastened blouse and skirt, or I'd have to find something else to wear.
I carefully rinsed off my toothbrush head and handle and replaced it on the holderâonly two tries to get it standing up perfectly straightâbefore marching back into the closet. “Damn dry cleaners,” I muttered as I tried on outfit after outfit. I had no idea to whom Mrs. Houlihan was taking my clothes to be cleaned, but it needed to stop immediately or I'd be reduced to wearing my maternity clothes. The ones with elastic seams and stretchy fabrics.
When I finally emerged into the bedroom, I wore an A-line dress my mother had purchased for me around the fifth month of my pregnancy. The way it hugged my chest and nothing else and its pretty green hue that turned the color of my hazel eyes to something more exotic, like jungle leaves, were its only assets. I hobbled in my five-inch Manolo stilettos, my toes folding in on themselves, and wondered how my shoes had managed to shrink along with my clothes. Maybe there was something in the air in the newly renovated closet, something my best friend, Dr. Sophie Wallen-Arasi, professor of historic preservation at the College of Charleston, might know about. She was the one who
had supervised its historically conscious construction, along with the never-ending number of renovations and preservation projects in my house on Tradd Street.
Like the recent roof replacement, which still had me dreaming of renting a bulldozer and being done with all of it. I had never liked old houses, mostly because of the restless dead who hated to leave them. And now that I owned one, and could even grudgingly admit that I occasionally experienced fond feelings toward it, I often found myself torn between thoughts of hugging that rare slab of Adams mantel and of accidentally throwing a flaming torch through a downstairs window.
I paused by the bed, where General Lee was now spooning with Jack. Jack opened his eyes, those beautiful blue eyes that both twins had inherited along with his black hair and dimplesâI'd apparently been just an incubatorâand I felt my knees soften. I wondered how long we had to be married before that would stop.
I picked up my phone and checked the timeâeight o'clock. On the monitor, I watched as Sarah began to fret, right on time, in her pink canopyâdraped crib. She was more reliable than the bells of St. Michael's for telling time, especially when it came to her feeding schedule. Her brother, JJâfor Jack Juniorâcontinued to sleep peacefully in his own crib, flat on his back, with all four limbs spread out like a little starfish. No matter what position we placed him in to sleep, he always ended up like that. Just like his father.
“I got this,” Jack said, reaching up to kiss me, his lips lingering on mine and making me regret my decision to get out of bed.
“I know. It's justÂ .Â .Â . well, I've been with them since they were born.”
“So have I. There's nothing to worry about.”
I bit my lip. “I have their charts in the nursery and in the kitchen. Don't forget to write down all their bowel movements, including descriptions, as well as what they eat and how much. And I've laid out their outfits in their room, including spares in case anything gets dirty. If they need a third, their hangers are color-coded, so it's easy to match different pants with tops.”
Jack stared up at me for a moment. “Sweetheart, don't take this the wrong way, but do you think the reason we haven't been able to hold on to a nanny is that things might be a little tooÂ .Â .Â . regulated?”
I straightened. “Of course not. Children do best when they're on a schedule and live in an organized environment. It's not my fault that I seem to know more about child-rearing than some of these so-called nannies. We'll try a new agency with more stringent qualifications. I just need to ask around, because I think I've already tried the ones that were recommended to us.”
“You might need to go out of state.” A corner of his lips turned up, and for a moment I thought he might be joking.
“That's a good idea. I'll make some calls this afternoon.”
Sarah started to fret in earnest, while JJ continued to be oblivious. Jack was already out of bed and padding toward the door. “I know it's hard, but you probably shouldn't go in to see themâit might rile you up more than them. You'll see them when you get home, and I'll Skype with you at lunchtime. We'll be fine. I'm just working on revisions my editor wanted for my book, and I can do that while watching two little babies. I mean, how hard can it be?”
It was my turn to stare at him. “My mom said to call if you needed
, and I'm just a phone call away as well. Sophie said to call her if you got stuck, but between you and me, I'd use her as a last resort. Last time I called she mentioned a baby massage while listening to whale music.” I gave in to an involuntary shudder.
He walked back to me and gave me a long, deep kiss, one that left me not caring that I had to repair my lipstick. “We'll be fine. Now go.”
His firm hand steered me toward the stairs as he headed to the nursery, briefly brushing my rear end before he let go. “And I just might have a surprise for you when you get home.”
His eyes definitely held
and it took all my strength reserves to continue down the stairs.
Halfway down, Nola's bedroom door opened and she peered out, a puppy in each armâappropriately named Porgy and Bessâas she
waved a front paw of each dog. “Say bye-bye, Mommy. Have a great first day back at work. Bring us back some kibble.”
Nola, Jack's daughter whose surprise appearance after her mother's death a few years before had taken a bit of an adjustment, was one of life's unexpected giftsâand I never thought I'd be saying that about any teenager. A sophomore now at Ashley Hall, she was quirky, smart, an accomplished songwriter, and as much my daughter now as Jack's. Like all his children, she was his spitting image, right down to the dimple in her chin. I'd come to the conclusion long ago that Jack's genes were simply bullies in the conception department. She was a vegan (most of the time), and my self-appointed nutrition guru who liked to slip in tofu and quinoa on Mrs. Houlihan's shopping list in place of creamed spinach and fried okra, but I loved her anyway.
“Thanks, Nola. Good luck on your French test. Alston's mother is driving the morning and afternoon carpools today, so you can spend the time going over your flash cards.”
“Yes, Melanie,” she said, rolling her eyes.
I heard Mrs. Houlihan in the kitchen and tiptoed toward the front door to avoid her. Sophie had detected wood rot in one of the kitchen windows and had it removed so it could be restored and then reinstalled. That had been six weeks ago, prompting me to suggest replacing all the windows with new, vinyl ones, knowing it was only a matter of time before the remaining ones would start going soft around the sills and leaking water. Sophie, a new mother herself, had clutched at her heart and had to sit down, looking at me as if I'd just kicked a puppy. I'd let the suggestion drop. But I was tired of listening to Mrs. Houlihan complain about how dark it was in the kitchen with a boarded-up window, and how it was impossible for her to continue to work in such conditions.
I pulled on my coat before opening the front door, then shut it silently behind me. I drew up short at the sight of a van parked at the curb,
HARD ROCK FOUNDATIONS
painted on the side, and my father's car behind it. My father, with whom I'd recently reconciled, had made it his mission to restore my Loutrel Briggs garden to its former glory.
He'd done such a good job that both his remarriage to my mother as well as my own wedding had been held beneath the ancient oak tree in the back garden surrounded by roses and tea olives.