Is it too soon to wish you a happy holidays? I don’t think so. I’ll go even further and give you something to smile about. Merry & Wright is available for pre-order right NOW and will be available in just a few weeks. Here’s an early and barely edited peek at like the first chapter and a half, because it’s cold out there, my loves!
Our story opens with our hero’s arrival…
“Finally,” Meredith sighed as the cab driver hefted the last suitcase out of the trunk and onto the sidewalk. He’d never heard of Covington before he agreed to fill in as the town’s librarian but it required almost six hours of travel on a train and three taxis to reach the small coastal town.
“That’s your library down there,” the driver said and pointed at the town square as Meredith squinted through his glasses and the snow. It wouldn’t be too long of a walk. “I always liked that it looked like a castle,” he added and Meredith nodded as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket and paid the driver. Meredith glanced back at the library and nodded in approval. It was fieldstone and wrapped in ivy and had turrets on each corner. He regarded the inn and his brows rose despite the tightening of his facial muscles as his lips and nose tingled from the bitter cold. It was a stately colonial house and lamps glowed invitingly in every window and the white picket fence and front garden were draped in fairy lights. The entire town was wrapped in garland, red bows and tiny white lights.
“It’s just for a few months,” Meredith told himself as the cab pulled away from the curb. He frowned up at the sky and a snowflake landed on his nose.
“You’d better come inside! We’re expecting a good bit of snow tonight!” A short, plump elderly woman urged as she waved wildly at Meredith from the front steps of the Malbourne Inn. She was wearing a red dress and a white apron and bounced excitedly as Meredith pulled the largest of his suitcases behind him.
“I’ll get the rest of those!” An older man insisted as he hurried past Meredith on the flagstone path through the front garden.
“Come in and have something warm to drink!” The woman said then pulled Meredith into the house. “Just leave your bag there and he’ll take care of it. I’m Mary Clark and that was my husband, Marvin. You must be our Mr. Crane,” she babbled as she hooked her arm around Meredith’s and led him to the fireplace in the sitting room.
“Yes,” he said as he warmed his hands. His neck stretched as he admired the lovingly polished antiques, the soft floral wallpaper and the wide staircase in the center of the house. The inn was bright and clean and smelled like cookies.
“Here! A few sips of this and you’ll feel nice and toasty,” she said as she pushed a mug into Meredith’s hands then gave them a squeeze. “Goodness, they’re like icicles! Where are your mittens?” She scolded up at him. Meredith shook his head then sniffed cautiously. “It’s mulled cider with a good dose of whiskey!” She whispered and Meredith’s brow rose as he took a sip.
“That’s lovely,” he murmured as sweet, spicy warmth spread down his chest and limbs. “Thank you,” he added and Mary laughed as she reached for his cheek and gave it a gentle pat.
“I thought we’d need something a little stronger than tea tonight. Winter’s finally decided to show up. We’ve barely had any snow this year!” She complained and Meredith nodded along. People were generally happy to do most of the talking if Meredith nodded along and allowed them to worry about the dips and lulls in the conversation. He didn’t the mind long, quiet pauses that made people uncomfortable. They gave Meredith a break and allowed him to enjoy his own company for a few blessed moments but he was happy to listen to others ramble. “We’re going to put up the tree soon and we’ve got the holiday festival next month. You’ll love that! Won’t he Marvin?” Mary called as she leaned toward the foyer.
“What’s that?” Marvin asked as he wrestled the last of Meredith’s suitcases through the door.
“The holiday festival!” Mary said and Marvin gasped.
“Oh, yes! Our holiday festival is always lots of fun. And we’re finally getting some snow!” He laughed breathlessly as he dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. His thin white hair fluttered with the breeze as he shut the door then dragged Meredith’s suitcase toward the stairs.
“I’ll get those,” Meredith said but Marvin and Mary both waved him off.
“Let him! It’s the most exercise he’s had in days,” Mary said but Meredith still felt bad, letting Marvin handle everything. “And we’re both so happy to have a new librarian after…everything.” Her voice broke and her eyes watered.
“I did hear about that,” Meredith said and she nodded solemnly and her lower lip wobbled.
“Emmet Haynes was beloved by everyone and it was a terrible blow for us all,” she whispered and Meredith’s brows fell but she flailed her hand as she took a fortifying breath then smiled. “Let’s not dwell on that! The Covington Holiday Festival is the highlight of our year! Wait until you see all the lights and decorations,” she told Meredith and his eyes widened as he sipped.
“There’s more?” He asked in disbelief but Mary snorted dismissively.
“We’re just easing into it, now that we’ve got Thanksgiving out of the way,” she said then turned and gestured for Meredith to follow her. “Let’s get you checked in and then we’ll get you settled into your room, dear. You can bring your cider. You still look a bit chilled.” She hurried back into the foyer and Meredith followed with his mug. She stopped at the desk at the foot of the stairs and opened a ledger then turned it so he could sign. “Here’s your key. You’ll be in the Blue Room. We’ve never had anything go missing for more than a day but we give tours from time to time so you’ll want to lock your door when you leave,” Mary said as she came around the desk and Meredith followed her up the stairs. “You said you weren’t sure how long you would be staying in Covington,” she prodded and Meredith nodded.
“I’m not,” he confirmed and she laughed as they reached the top of the stairs then waved at the hall on the right and stopped at the first door.
“You’re not much of a talker, are you, Mr. Crane?” She asked as she opened the door and let him pass.
“No,” he said as he leaned into the room then stepped over the threshold. “Please, call me Meredith.” He liked the blue and white color scheme, it reminded him of English china.
“Breakfast begins at 6:00 a.m. It’s just you and Edith staying with us but people often pop in for a cup of coffee or a hot meal. We can usually count on Decker, our sheriff. He lives across the street and just a few houses over.” They stepped aside as Marvin delivered Meredith’s luggage and he gave Meredith a playful nudge with his elbow.
“Make sure you warn him about our other guests!” He told Mary and she nodded.
“I was just getting to that,” she said as she crossed the room and opened a door. “This is your bathroom and there are extra towels in the linen closet in the hall. If you find anything’s missing, don’t panic. It’s just Eliza and things usually turn up in the greenhouse or wherever she sees fit,” Mary explained and Meredith’s head pulled back.
“Eliza?” He asked but she just laughed and gestured dismissively.
“Her mother drowned her in the housekeeper’s bathroom before she hung herself from the banister in the hall. Eliza’s always up to mischief. The Malbourne Inn is a popular attraction and we give tours during the day,” she stated casually, as if it wasn’t appallingly morbid and ridiculous.
“I’m sorry?” Meredith replied weakly and Mary laughed.
“Don’t let it trouble you! Eliza and Jane are harmless and like to play the occasional prank but you’ll want to avoid the attic. Billy has been known to act out and we did lose a priest during an exorcism when I was an infant,” she said breezily as she turned down the quilt.
“Right,” Meredith murmured as he frowned at the door. It was too late in the evening to look for other accommodations.
“Don’t worry, though! You’ll be fine, as long as you avoid the attic. Jane and Eliza are harmless,” she insisted then clasped her hands together as she beamed at him. “We’re delighted to have you. Let me or Marvin know if we can do anything to make your stay more comfortable,” she said and Meredith nodded.
“Thank you,” he replied then let Mary give his cheek another tender pat as she left.
“Sleep well and don’t hesitate to call if you need anything!” She said then took herself off and quietly shut the door behind her. Meredith stared for a moment then snorted.
“Ghosts,” he muttered as he shook his head. “Obviously a gimmick to attract and entertain tourists,” he decided then set the matter aside and focused on unpacking.
The following morning, Decker arrives at the inn and…
“Good morning, Decker!” Marvin called as Decker kicked the snow off his boots at the door.
“Morning, Marvin,” he said then tapped his brow as Fred waved at him from the sofa in the sitting room. “Edith taking her time this morning?” He asked and the older man chuckled as he winked at Decker over his newspaper.
“She says it’s far too cold for her venture downstairs for breakfast. She’s having her tea and muffin in bed so I thought I’d keep Marvin company.”
“What are you up to this morning?” Marvin asked as he helped Decker out of his coat and hung it on the hook.
“Breakfast and I thought I’d welcome the new librarian,” Decker said and the three of them flinched and winced and the mood in the foyer dropped. Marvin coughed softly as he wiped at the corner of his eye and Decker gripped his shoulder reassuringly. “How are you all holding up?” The last few weeks were terrible for Covington’s residents, especially Haynes’ closest friends. Like Decker, they blamed themselves for not seeing it and felt deeply betrayed by Emmet.
“There’s no making sense of it, is there?” Marvin mused quietly and Decker shook his head.
“No. All we can do is help each other carry on and heal,” he said and Marvin nodded then offered Decker a brave smile.
“But Mr. Crane seems like a very sensible and capable young man!” He said and Decker’s brows rose.
“Indeed! He should be down shortly, I imagine,” Marvin stated as he guided Decker through the more formal sitting room and toward the sunroom.
“Great. I’ll see what Mary’s up to,” Decker said as he left them. He found Mary arranging the pastries on the sideboard and her face lit up when Decker leaned into the room.
“Oh, hello, Decker!” She hurried around the tables and her arms stretched as he bent to give her a hug.
“How are you doing?” He asked as he kissed her cheek and she sighed heavily.
“Some days are dreadful but I find it helps to focus on the happier news. Marvin’s going to put up more lights later and we’ve got Mr. Crane staying with us now!” She informed him and he grinned as he reached for a plate.
“I heard. I came by to introduce myself and see what we can do to welcome him,” he said then began filling his plate while Mary poured a cup of coffee for him.
“That’s so good of you. It’s always nice to have a friendly face, when you’re new in town.”
“Marvin says he seems like a capable young man,” Decker said and she gasped.
“Oh, he is! I think he’ll fit in nicely!”
“Excellent!” Decker replied then he sat by the window so he could watch the doors.
“I have a good feeling about him,” she whispered as she set his mug on the table and patted Decker on the shoulder. “Goodness! I almost forgot about the banana muffins. You keep an eye out for Mr. Crane while I run to the kitchen,” she said and Decker chuckled as he waved her off.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get lost, if he shows up,” he promised as she rushed to the kitchen. Decker waited until she was gone then frowned at his coffee as he stirred in the sugar. The people of Covington cherished their library and revered Emmet. Under different circumstances, a new librarian would have very big shoes to fill but Decker was praying that the new librarian would just be a decent human being. He needed someone dependable and capable to help the people of Covington make a fresh start and put Emmet and the hangings behind them. “Just be normal and not a serial killer,” he begged under his breath as he stirred distractedly then jumped to his feet as a slight but starkly beautiful man with thick framed glasses and bright blue eyes cautiously peeked into the sunroom.
“Just go right on in!” Marvin called from the foyer and the other’s man’s eyes widened when he found Decker.
“Mary ran to the kitchen for a moment,” Decker said as he stepped around the table and offered his hand. “I’m Sheriff Decker Wright, you must be Mr. Crane.” The other man nodded as he took Decker’s hand. He was tall and lean and the sharp angles of his cheeks, jaw and chin were striking as his long, elegant neck stretched as he scanned the sunroom. His brown tweed suit was severely tailored and he paired it with a Fair Isle sweater vest and a tie. It was so perfectly appropriate for a librarian but the ensemble made Decker’s uniform feel a bit too tight and the room a little too warm. Decker guessed he was in his mid thirties but it was hard to tell, Crane’s complexion was pale and smooth and the shave was immaculate.
“Please, call me Meredith,” he said quietly and Decker stifled a shiver but leaned into the warm, low murmur. Decker’s pulse became heavier, as if Meredith was sharing something far more intimate.
“There you are!” Mary said as she reappeared with a basket of muffins then beamed at Decker. “I see you’ve met our Mr. Crane.”
“Just Meredith is fine,” he insisted then frowned at their hands. Decker was still holding onto Meredith’s.
“Sorry!” Decker laughed and finally released his hand. “I wanted to introduce myself and welcome you to Covington,” he explained and Meredith’s lips curved just slightly as he bowed his head.
“Thank you, Sheriff,” he said then cleared his throat softly. “Might I trouble you for a cup of coffee, Mary?”
“Of course! Have a seat and I’ll get that for you. I’ll make you a plate as well!” She said and Decker waved at the seat across from his.
“Would you like to join me?” He asked and Meredith opened his mouth to stop Mary but nodded as he sat.
“I usually just have coffee,” he said quietly then offered Decker another weak smile as he folded his hands in his lap. His eyes followed Mary as she stacked his plate with pancakes, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. “That’s far too much…” He whispered as he held up a hand and Decker cleared his throat. Meredith’s gaze darted back to him and Decker shook his head.
“There’s no point in arguing, you’re her Mr. Crane now. She’s going to smother you,” he warned under his breath. Meredith’s eyes widened as he looked at Mary.
“Her Mr. Crane?” He whispered and he looked startled as she lowered a heaping plate in front of him then returned with his coffee. “Thank you, Mary. This looks perfect,” he said and she laughed as she gave his cheek an affectionate pat.
“He’s not very much of a talker, our Mr. Crane. Is he?” She asked and missed the tightening of Meredith’s lips and the way his eyes narrowed as he draped his napkin over his lap. Mr. Crane was a people pleaser but he bristled when he was criticized for being quiet. Probably because it required a lot of effort on his part to talk to people, judging by the way his fist clenched in his lap the slight flare of his nostrils.
“I think that would be a good quality in a librarian,” Decker offered and a grin tugged at Meredith’s lips and there was a hint of pink in his cheeks as Mary laughed.
“Of course, but you know how Emmet loved to talk and talk…” Her voice died away and she took a shaking breath as she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve. Decker shushed soothingly as he reached for her hand.
“We’ll get through this and it’ll get easier,” he told her and she nodded then offered them a watery smile.
“We’ve got each other and we’ve got Mr. Crane to get settled,” she stated then sighed as she went back to the sideboard and covered the dishes. Decker watched as Meredith added sugar to his coffee and became mesmerized by his hands as he stirred. They were slender and elegant, like Meredith, and his touch was light and precise. He stirred silently and didn’t strike or tap the ceramic before setting the spoon on the saucer. He took a cautious sip and there was a soft hum of approval. Then, Meredith picked up his fork and prodded the potatoes and eggs. Decker’s brow rose as Meredith continued to prod and frown at his plate.
“Is something wrong?” He asked and Meredith shook his head but he looked unsure until his nose wrinkled.
“I laid all my clothes on the bed this morning and everything was there. I’m sure of it,” he mumbled and Decker found himself leaning forward again, so he could follow what he was saying.
“But…?” He said and Meredith’s teeth dug into his lip.
“Both of my socks were there and I stepped into the bathroom for just a moment and when I turned back to the bed, one was missing. I know it was there. I saw it, but then it wasn’t. I looked everywhere but it’s gone. My door was locked but I’d swear someone must have taken it,” he said. He looked so concerned and earnest, Decker had to bite down on his lips to keep from laughing.
“Oh! This is yours, then!” Mary said as she pulled an argyle sock from her apron. “It turned up in the pantry while I was making the muffins,” she stated. She held the sock out to Meredith but he stared at it as if she’d found a severed finger.
“How did my sock…?”
“Eliza,” Decker and Mary said. Meredith’s eyes swung to Mary and then Decker.
“Eliza?” He asked warily. Decker snorted as he used his fork to cut into his pancakes and Mary nodded.
“I told you about Jane and Eliza last night! Remember, dear? Eliza likes to take little things and put them in the oddest places or switch things around but she’s harmless,” she insisted and Meredith was frozen and still staring at the sock in her hand. “I’ll just leave this here. I’m going to get a fresh pot of coffee,” she said then left them.
“Jane looks pretty terrifying but she won’t hurt you. She might ruffle your hair and clothes but she usually just screams then disappears,” Decker said then took a large bite of his pancakes. Meredith pulled his gaze from the sock and blinked at Decker.
“You can’t be serious,” he said and Decker laughed.
“I know it sounds crazy…”
“Impossible,” Meredith corrected and Decker hissed.
“I promise, Covington isn’t full of lunatics.” He flashed Meredith a sheepish smile before he sipped his coffee and prayed they wouldn’t scare him off. Meredith’s lips attempted to make words before he shook his head and turned his attention to his plate. He picked up his fork and knife and Decker’s eyes kept drifting to his hands. They were so fine and smooth and his touch was so light. He drizzled syrup onto his pancakes and cut them then licked his finger and Decker swallowed a groan. If the ghosts don’t run him off, the creepy sheriff might…
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