Authors: Heather Graham
The dead of night…
The Old West town of Lily, Arizona, is home to the Gilded Lily, a former theater…and bawdy house. These days, it offers theatrical productions geared to tourists, but the recent discovery of a skull, a real skull, among the props and costumes shakes everyone up.
So, who do you call? The Krewe of Hunters, a special FBI unit of paranormal investigators. In this case, it’s agent Jane Everett. Jane’s also a talented artist who creates images of the dead as they once were. But the Krewe always works with local law enforcement, and here that means Sloan Trent, former Houston cop and now sheriff. His great-great-grandmother was an actress at the Gilded Lily…and she’s not resting in peace.
Then more remains appear in the nearby desert. As they search for answers, using all the skills at their disposal, Jane and Sloan find themselves falling into danger—and into love.
Praise for the novels of
bestselling author Heather Graham
“Graham deftly weaves elements of mystery,
the paranormal and romance into a tight plot that will keep
guessing at the true nature of the killer's evil.”
“Suspenseful and dark. The culture and
surrounding San Antonio and the Alamo are described
detail. The transitions between past and present
flow seamlessly, the
main characters are interesting
and their connection to one another is
RT Book Reviews
“A fast-paced story, involving history and
ghost stories. Graham is skilled at creating intriguing,
characters involved in challenging situations.”
Lesa's Book Critiques
“I am amazed at Graham's ability to create
a magical story that works so well in the present when part of the facts lie
in the past.
is a saucy romantic murder mystery with ghosts taking center
“The paranormal romantic mystery
exhilarating and fast-paced.”
“If you like mixing a bit of the creepy
with a dash of sinister and spine-chilling reading with your romance, be
sure to read Heather Graham's latest.â¦ Graham does a great job of blending
just a bit of paranormal with real, human evil.”
“The paranormal elements are integral to
the unrelentingly suspenseful plot, the characters are likable, the romance
convincing and, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Graham's atmospheric
depiction of a lost city is especially poignant.”
“Graham's rich, balanced thriller sizzles
with equal parts suspense, romance and the paranormalâall of it
Also by HEATHER GRAHAM
LET THE DEAD SLEEP
AN ANGEL FOR CHRISTMAS
THE EVIL INSIDE
HEART OF EVIL
NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRES
THE KILLING EDGE
NIGHT OF THE WOLVES
HOME IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS
DUST TO DUST
THE DEATH DEALER
THE LAST NOEL
THE DEAD ROOM
KISS OF DARKNESS
DEAD ON THE DANCE FLOOR
PICTURE ME DEAD
A SEASON OF MIRACLES
NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD
NEVER SLEEP WITH STRANGERS
EYES OF FIRE
* * * * *
Look for Heather Graham's next novel
THE NIGHT IS ALIVE
available August 2013
For Nan and Joe Ryan
and my one and only but
really great trip to
Tombstone with them!
ornings were quiet in Lily, Arizona.
A pity, Sloan Trent thought, walking up the two steps to the raised sidewalk of the town's main street. He felt tourists were missing out, because these summer mornings were beautiful, retaining the night's chill, while the days were often blazing.
Not surprisingly, the street was called Main Street. Sometimes, when the wind picked up, tumbleweeds actually swept down the street, along with little clouds of dust. The tourists loved itâexcept on the few rainy days that turned the dirt road into a mud slide, which clearly explained the raised wooden sidewalks of the 1880s.
The entire town was built of wood; only a few of the newer dwellings on the outskirts were brick or concrete. When Lily was built, lumber had been the easiest material to acquire, so everything was made of wood. Even the jail.
It was probably a miracle that Lily had never burned to the ground. But, small and barren though it might be, the town was a survivor. Just naming it Lily had been a piece of optimism, but when Joseph Miller had first come in hopes of finding gold way back in the 1850s, he'd named the place for his grandmotherânot because she'd been beautiful or sweet, but because the Irishwoman had been blessed with the greatest tenacity he'd ever known, according to his memoir.
And Lily, Arizona, was a town that had held on tenaciously through good and bad, fair times and foul.
Sloan looked down the broad dusty road that had been preserved. Lily had almost been a ghost town, in the
sense; at one time, in the early 1900s, only three places of business had remained open, and since one had been the sheriff's office and jail, there'd really just been two mercantile establishments, both hanging on by a thread. Those two had been the Paris Saloon and the theater, the Gilded Lily. Of course, staying afloat at that time in this dry Western town off the beaten track, on the road between Tucson and Tombstone, was a struggle, and the Gilded Lily had offered pretty tawdry entertainment in the guise of theater. Clearly, the place had been successful.
And because miners, ranchers, opportunists and downright outlaws enjoyed the services of the main saloon across the street and the bar in the theater, the jail did a booming business, as well.
Today, there weren't many shoot-outs. There weren't even many drunken brawls. It was strange to be sheriff back here after being with the Houston, Texas, police force. And strange to be head of a six-manâincluding one womanâforce when he'd previously worked with hundreds of fellow officers.
But he'd come back to be with his grandfather when they'd first found out about his illness, and then stayed with him, tended to him, while the cancer slowly killed him. And now...
Now, he didn't have the heart to leave again.
Ah, yes, here he was in Lily, Arizona, taking care of not-so-major crime!
And that, he reminded himself, was why he'd left the new sheriff's office down the highway and come into the tourist end of town. There was another report from the old sheriff's office and jail, which was now being operated as a restaurant and bed-and-breakfast, known, naturally, as the Old Jail. It was featured on all the “haunted” shows that continually played on cable stations. Another “theft” had occurred.
The nineteenth-century office and jail sat next to the Gilded Lily, while the Paris Saloon and the old stables were across the street. While it was small in comparison to major tourist destinations like Tombstone, Lily had made something of a comeback. The other side of the saloon, in an old barbershop, had become a state-of-the-art salon and spa, and next to it, in the old general store, was a place called Desert Diamondsâa souvenir shop that also boasted a pizza parlor, ice cream and a barista stand. It was also a small museum. Grant Winston, proprietor, had been around since practically the Dark Ages and he displayed his old newspapers and artifacts in a special climate-controlled room in the back.
Main Street was hopping as a tourist destination. The old stables offered horseback riding, day tours and haunted night tours. They'd even arranged a few Styrofoam “relics” out in the desert to heighten the pleasure.
Shaking his head at the marvels of modern commerce, Sloan paused for a minute.
A breeze had picked up suddenly, and a large clump of sagebrush went skidding down the road before him. He was struck by the feeling that something was about to changeâthat dark forces were coming to life in Lily, Arizona.
He couldn't help grinning at his ridiculous feeling that the sudden chill in the air and the sweep of sagebrush could be a forewarning of some kind of evil.
He opened the door of the bed-and-breakfast. The old sheriff's desk was now the check-in counter, and the deputy's desk held a sign that read Concierge.
Because, of course, in Lily, Arizona, you needed a concierge.
But the concierge did double duty, working the morning coffee and continental breakfast station that was laid out in the old gun room and pitching in when the gun room turned into a restaurant. The food wasn't bad and there was often a need for reservations, since the room held only six tables.
“Sheriff, thank God you're here!”
Mike Addison, owner and manager of the Old Jail, was at the sheriff's desk. He stood quickly when Sloan walked in.
“I came right over, Mike,” he said. “What is it this time?”
“The couple in Room One! You know, Hardy's cell,” Mike said dramatically. “They were robbed last night!”
“They woke up this morningâand their wallets had been stolen. I wouldn't believe it myself, Sloan, if they weren't such fine people and if they weren't so honestly upset. The husband says they were over at the Gilded Lily, they saw the show, had one nightcap and came back. As you know, only our guests have keys to the front and the cells. I swear, I can't figure out how someone could have gotten into their room!”
Mike was in his thirties, tall, lean and earnest. He'd come out from Boston, having been a lover of all the Old West movies he'd seen growing up, thanks to cable channels. He'd bought the jail from old “Coot” Stevens, who'd first turned it into a B and B. Mike had worked hard to maintain its historic aspects and make it a nice place to stay. While the rooms were extremely smallâthey'd started out as cells, after allâthey featured beds with luxurious mattresses, exceptional air-conditioning and tales of the outlaws who'd lived and died in the area, some in the cells and some at the scaffolding on Main Street.
“Where are they?” Sloan asked.
“The breakfast room. I offered to spike their morning coffee, they were so upset. Jerry and Lucinda Broling.”
Sloan nodded and went in. The walls were covered with various weapons and rifles dating from the early 1800s to the 1960s. The tables were stained wood, which gave the place atmosphere and was easy to clean.
The young couple in question certainly looked dejected enough as they sat at the table, heads bowed and shoulders slumped. They appeared to be in their late twenties. Jerry Broling glanced up with hope in his eyes as Sloan entered. “It's the sheriff, honey. He'll do something. Everything will be fine, you'll see!” he said.
Lucinda, a blonde with cornflower-blue eyes, smiled tremulously. She'd been crying.
“How do you do? Sloan Trent,” he said, introducing himself. “So, you think you were robbed during the night. In your room?”
“It had to be!” Lucinda insisted. “We went to the showâit's very funny, by the wayâand afterward we stopped at the bar in the Gilded Lily.”
“We had Kahlua and cream,” Jerry said.
“I had Tia Maria.
had Kahlua and cream.” Obviously, the robbery had made them both irritable.
“Neither of us drank a lot,” Jerry said. “Weâ”
hadn't been drinking at all,” Lucinda broke in. “Jerry was draining a few beers in the saloon during the show.”
“I wasn't even slightly buzzed.” Jerry's tone was hard.
Lucinda waved a hand in the air. “I paid for the drinks.”
“And that's the last time you saw your wallets?” Sloan asked. “At the saloon and the bar?”
“Mine never came out of my pocket. It should've been in my jeans this morning,” Jerry said.
Lucinda waved a hand in the air. “I'd been using my credit card. Jerry hadn't paid for anything all day.
might have been anywhere. But I know that my wallet was in my purse when I went to bed.”
Sloan nodded thoughtfully. “I understand you were in Room One.”
“I've already searched it,” Jerry told him.
“We even pulled the mattress up,” Lucinda said.
“Did you ask at the Gilded Lily?”
“Well, they're not open this early, are they?” Jerry asked.
“Not for business, but they have rehearsals, meetings... The costumer goes in to sew up rips and tears and so on.”
Mike was at the door. “I called. Spoke to Henri Coque. They're up and about, working down in the old storage room digging up more wigs. He went up to the bar area and searched through everything. Couldn't find any credit cards. Talked to everyone he could, but no one handed in a lost wallet.”
“So, you were in Trey Hardy's cell,” Sloan said.
They nodded. “Excuse me. I'll give the place a search, too, if you don't mind.”
The couple looked at him doubtfully. “Sheriff, there's a thief in this town,” Lucinda said.
“A low-down, no-account pickpocket!” Jerry muttered.
“Stop trying to sound like some Old West bank robber,” Lucinda groaned.
Sloan left the squabbling couple, passed through the barred wooden door to the cells and walked down the length of the hallway. The door to Room One, the Trey Hardy cell, was open.
Hardy had been a true character in his day. A Confederate cavalry lieutenant who had lost everything during the Civil War, he'd started robbing banks. He was a hero to some back in Missouriâjust like Jesse James. He'd stolen from the carpetbaggers to give back to the citizens. He'd been dashing and handsome, and when things had gotten hot for him in Missouri, he'd gone farther. But in Lily he came up against another ex-Confederate, Sheriff Brendan Fogerty. Fogerty felt that the war was over, and ex-Reb or not, Hardy wasn't stealing from the citizens of Lily, Arizona. He'd taken Hardy in after winning a fistfight on Main Street. Hardy had promised to come willingly if Fogerty bested him. To a cheering crowd, he had turned himself in when Fogerty had pinned him. Sadly, unknown to Fogerty, his deputy, Aaron Munson, had a long-standing beef with anyone who'd fought against the Union. Before Hardy could be brought to trial, Munson shot Hardy down in his cell, only to be dragged out to the street and lynched himself by a furious mob enamored of the handsome Hardy.
While Munson haunted Main Street, Hardy was said to haunt the jail and the cell where he had died.
The doors to the cells were wooden with barred windows. They were entered with large jail keys that had to be returnedâlest the guest be charged a hefty fee. In the age of the plastic slot card, the Old Jail was a holdout. But entering a cell with a big jail key held greater charm.
The door wasn't locked, so Sloan stepped inside. The couple had done a pretty thorough job of searching. Drawers were still open and the mattress lay crookedly on the bed.
Sloan turned back to make sure he hadn't been followed. There was a security camera in the hall but he knew that was just for show; Mike never remembered to change the tape. He seldom had trouble. Guests seemed to love talking about the shadowy apparitions they'd seen in the halls or the “cold spots” that had moved into the room, et cetera, that went with staying at such a place. He walked to the dresser; it was heavy. A wide-screen TV sat on it, along with the bust of an Indian chief.
Sloan waited a minute, then shook his head, said quietly, “Give it up. Return the wallets.”
He heard the rasp of something against the wall. Turning, he saw that that there were two wallets on the floor. They might have been wedged behind the dresser and wallâand fallen when he tugged at the dresser.
He picked them up and headed to the door, then looked back into the room. “You know, Hardy, shadows in the night, cool. Your few ghostly appearancesâgreat. But quit with the money, the keys and the wallets, huh? All these people think you're the next best thing to Jesse James. Don't go ruining your wonderful reputation.”
For a moment, Sloan thought he saw him. Hardy seemed to be standing there, still wearing a gray jacket and a sweeping gray hat with a plume, a cross between a Western outlaw and a disenfranchised soldier. He had a neatly clipped golden beard and his eyes were bright. He saluted Sloan.
Shaking his head, Sloan walked back to the breakfast room and set the wallets on the table.
The couple gaped at him incredulously. “They were wedged behind the dresser,” he said.
“Oh, thank you!” Lucinda gushed.
“Yeah, man, thanks!” Jerry said.
“Check them, make sure everything's in them,” Sloan said.
“You said you searched everywhere!” Lucinda accused Jerry.
“Hey, you were in the room, too!”
She'd barely finished speaking when they heard it.
The sound was terrible; it seemed to come from the earth itself. It was a screamâone that might have been piercing except that it was muffled.
It came again and again...
“What the fâ” Jerry began, leaping to his feet.
“Oh, my God!” Lucinda cried, trembling.
Even Sloan felt as if ice trickled down his spine.
And then he realized the source of the scream. There was nothing unearthly about it. It was simply coming from the basement of the theater next door.
Sloan strode quickly from the Old Jail and down the few steps to the swinging, slatted doors that led into the Gilded Lily. He saw the long bar and the rows of seating to the side of it and the stage at the far end.