Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
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PRAISE FOR
THE GHOST OF GRANNY APPLES MYSTERIES

“Officially proves the vivacious Jaffarian is the literary heir apparent to Lucille Ball! . . . A rollicking good time . . . Refreshing, enthralling, and absolutely scrumptious! Jaffarian blends . . . an eclectic mix of laugh-out-loud fun, heart-touching moments, whimsy, and rapid-fire page turning . . . [Jaffarian] deserves a standing ovation.”


The Book Resort

“Sue Ann Jaffarian never fails to make me chuckle.”

—Joanne Fluke, 
New York Times
 bestselling author

“Likable characters and steady suspense . . . [Sue Ann Jaffarian] makes paranormal activity seem plausible. One of the best cozy authors for light chatter and low-key humor.”


Library Journal
(starred review)

“A charming tale, as appealing as apple pie.”

—Harley Jane Kozak

“Delectable . . . [An] appealing ghost story.”


Publishers Weekly

“Entertaining and intriguing.”


Once Upon a Romance

“A pleasant mix of cozy and paranormal. A sprinkling of romance adds just the right spice to this new series that has something for everyone.”


The Mystery Reader

“Jaffarian’s lively style of writing infuses a burst of charm and fun into a suspense-filled and intriguing mystery, and the added dash of romance is just the topping for this delicious tale.”


Fresh Fiction

“I look forward to the next Emma adventure with her wonderful grandmother. Enjoy!”


Once Upon a Romance

“A unique voice.”

—Kirkus Reviews

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

GHOST OF A GAMBLE

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2014 by Sue Ann Jaffarian.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY
®
PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-59244-1

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / April 2014

Cover illustration by Robert Crawford.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

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.

Version_1

Contents

PRAISE FOR SUE ANN JAFFARIAN

TITLE PAGE

COPYRIGHT

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

• CHAPTER ONE •

• CHAPTER TWO •

• CHAPTER THREE •

• CHAPTER FOUR •

• CHAPTER FIVE •

• CHAPTER SIX •

• CHAPTER SEVEN •

• CHAPTER EIGHT •

• CHAPTER NINE •

• CHAPTER TEN •

• CHAPTER ELEVEN •

• CHAPTER TWELVE •

• CHAPTER THIRTEEN •

• CHAPTER FOURTEEN •

• CHAPTER FIFTEEN •

• CHAPTER SIXTEEN •

• CHAPTER SEVENTEEN •

• CHAPTER EIGHTEEN •

• CHAPTER NINETEEN •

• CHAPTER TWENTY •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT •

• CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE •

Acknowledgments

Although this is not my first Ghost of Granny Apples book, it is my first full-length novel with the Penguin publishing family, so I’m feeling a lot of special gratitude.

A big shout-out of thanks to Whitney Lee, the agent of light, who found Granny her new home at Berkley Prime Crime. To Emily Rapoport, my first editor at Berkley who bought the Granny Apples franchise, and to Faith Black, my current editor, who picked up the Granny banner from Emily and gives me great guidance.

Ladies, this book is for you!


CHAPTER ONE

T
HE
light fixture was as common as a rock. A simple white metal cylinder recessed into a textured, plain white kitchen ceiling, it beamed soft light down onto the counter below without fanfare or embellishment, like the billions of light fixtures like it around the world.

Emma Whitecastle peered up at it and saw nothing unusual. The baby, however, thought it the greatest attraction since peekaboo. His face blossomed with joy and he dissolved into a fit of giggles each time he looked up. From his seat in the bouncer, the child waved his pudgy arms and legs like a turtle trying to right itself and jabbered happily at the ceiling. His laughter was infectious and Emma couldn’t help giggling along with him.

If you didn’t count Oscar, her ex-husband’s midlife crises son from his midlife crises bimbo second wife, it had been a long time since Emma had seen a baby up close and personal. Even with Oscar, she’d kept her distance, given the family dynamics. Emma looked down at the little boy in the bouncer and thought about her own child, Kelly, and how she’d been a sweet, good-natured baby like this. Kelly was now in her third year at Harvard.

“He’s sure a happy little fella.” The comment came from Granny Apples, who watched the child from a few feet away.

Emma nodded without acknowledging the presence of the ghost of her great-great-great-grandmother, instead keeping her eyes on the little boy dressed in pint-size jeans and a green T-shirt covered in orange giraffes.

“What’s his name again?”

The question was not aimed at Granny, but at the woman standing behind the counter on which the baby’s seat rested. The counter jutted out from the wall like an arm, separating the cluttered but cheerful kitchen from the eating area that housed a well-used wooden kitchen table.

“Nicholas,” the woman replied. “He’s about seven months old.”

Nicholas giggled again and bent in half, grabbing his feet in his little hands in a form of infant calisthenics. When he let go, his face beamed upward, as if searching for approval. He still wasn’t looking at Emma. Nicholas only had eyes for the overhead light, communicating to it with smiles and baby babble.

Emma looked up. “You’re right, Dolly. There is something odd about that light fixture.”

“I call it Lenny the Lightbulb.”

“You gave the light a name?”

“Why not? His stuffed animals have names.”

Dolly Meskiel moved closer to the counter. She was in her mid-seventies but moved with the lightness of a much younger woman. A multicolored scarf held her long silver hair back from her still attractive face. Her flouncy Indian print skirt was paired with a long-sleeved peasant blouse of creamy cotton, divided at the waist by a cord of burgundy velvet with silver embellishments. On her feet were hot pink Crocs. Hanging heavily around her neck was an impressive squash blossom necklace. Dolly was not afraid of color.

Emma felt Dolly’s eyes on her, studying her through wire-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her slender nose. Behind the lenses sat sharp blue eyes that matched the color of her thick eye shadow.

“At first it was a silly joke,” Dolly explained. “I started calling the light Lenny when I noticed Nicholas talking to it all the time.” Dolly gently stroked the baby’s fine dark hair with a thin hand. “When his fixation continued, I wondered if there was more to it, especially since Nicholas doesn’t obsess on any other lights, just this one.”

“You think there might be a ghost haunting your house?” Emma looked up at the light again. She couldn’t feel the presence of any spirits, save Granny, and she presently couldn’t see any except for Granny. With Dolly’s air-conditioning running, it was also difficult for Emma to gauge any unusual pockets of cool air, often a sign that spirits were nearby.

“Not my house, just that light.” With a protective hand still on the child’s head, Dolly also peered up at the fixture. “Can ghosts inhabit lights? I’ve never heard of such a thing, but thought if anyone would know, it would be you.”

The comment gave Emma a start. Dolly’s only child was Milo Ravenscroft, Emma’s mentor, friend, and world-famous medium. Emma had driven to Las Vegas as a favor to Milo, though she was still puzzled as to why he needed her help. He was far superior to her in communicating with the other side.

Milo was in Las Vegas with Tracy Bass, his fiancée and Emma’s closest friend, but although the couple was staying with Dolly, neither was currently at Dolly’s townhouse in a quiet neighborhood that seemed light-years away from the glitz and glamor of the famous Strip. Once Emma had arrived and introductions had been made, Milo and Tracy had left, saying they had an appointment at the university. Emma knew it was an excuse to let her interact with Dolly without distraction. Before leaving, Milo had said he and Tracy would meet up with Emma later at her hotel. In her head, Emma was working on a list of questions to ask Milo when she saw him.

Emma had left her home in Pasadena shortly after six that morning, just ahead of Tuesday rush hour traffic. She’d covered the two hundred sixty miles to Vegas in a little over four hours, stopping once, in Baker, to grab a bagel and a cup of coffee at the Mad Greek. Eager to find out what was going on, she’d driven straight to Dolly’s from there. Granny had been excited to tag along to Las Vegas. She loved the place and she loved long car trips. During the drive Emma had listened to a book on tape, something she enjoyed doing and something Granny liked a great deal.

“I may not be able to read very well,” Granny had said, excited as the trip began, “or hold a book, but I sure can listen.”

Emma glanced quickly at Granny, then flashed her eyes upward, indicating she wanted to know what the ghost thought about the light fixture. She did not want Dolly to know about Granny, at least not yet.

Granny moved into Emma’s line of sight and shrugged, letting her know she hadn’t picked up on any spirits either.

“Why Lenny?” Emma asked Dolly.

Dolly hesitated before answering. “I don’t really know. It just seemed to fit.”

Dolly’s hand went from the baby’s head to her own hair. A long lock had fallen across her shoulder. She twisted it while she gave the question more thought. It was a gesture Emma expected from a very young woman, not from someone her parents’ age. She watched Dolly more carefully, wondering if the hair twisting was a sign of nervousness or simply an unconscious habit.

“It was the oddest thing,” Dolly explained. “One morning the name just sort of popped out of my mouth, rather like a hiccup.” She stopped playing with her hair, tossing the long gray strand back over her left shoulder. “Sounds good, though, doesn’t it? Lenny the Lightbulb. Sounds a lot better than Jack the Lightbulb or Maurice the Lightbulb.”

“She’s got a point,” added Granny, who floated closer to the baby, stopping next to Emma.

Emma wiggled the baby’s foot with its blue sock and cooed at him. Still laughing at the light, Nicholas responded by letting his eyes drift down to her. He smiled, showing off two bottom front teeth. When his gaze drifted to Emma’s right, where Granny stood, he wiggled in his seat and grinned in that direction.

“I think the little tyke can see me,” Granny told Emma. Granny slowly moved away from Emma. With his eyes, Nicholas followed Granny’s movement. When she got several feet away, he frowned with confusion and twisted his head to see her better. Granny started to move back toward him. When she got close, Nicholas’s face lit up. “Now I’m sure of it.”

Emma took note of Granny’s experiment, but said nothing. She turned her attention back to Dolly, “What do his parents think?”

“His parents think Lenny the Lightbulb is a funny, cute game I play with their son. I haven’t said anything to them about ghosts.”

“Probably a good idea, at least for the time being. Do you know where they stand on the paranormal?”

“Not really. I’ve been watching Nicholas for nearly two months now, but haven’t spent much time with the Fosters. Usually John drops the baby off every weekday morning between seven thirty and eight. He’s a cop here in town. Suzanne works part-time in a doctor’s office and picks him up around one or one thirty in the afternoon. They live in this complex, but a few buildings over. It’s convenient for them and a good way for me to supplement my income. Plus I enjoy it. It makes me feel less of an old lady.”

Dolly went to the refrigerator and pulled out some baby food. “I didn’t want to scare them, or make them think twice about letting me take care of Nicholas. John already thinks I’m a bit of an eccentric, what with the fortune telling and all, but I was referred to them by people they trust.”

“You tell fortunes?” asked Emma with surprise.

“Yes, didn’t Milo tell you that?”

Emma searched her memory until she found the answer. Milo had never said a thing to her about it, but Tracy had. In a phone call to Emma after her first meeting with her future mother-in-law, Tracy had announced to Emma with amusement that Dolly was a fortune-teller right out of central casting, and a former showgirl.

“No,” Emma said, “but I do recall now that Tracy mentioned it. She also said you were once a showgirl.”

Dolly straightened her posture and smiled. “That’s right, in one of the best shows of its kind. Of course, that was when I was in my twenties. Both Vegas and I were fresh and sassy back then.”

Emma gave the woman a big smile in return. Behind the heavy makeup and loose clothing, Dolly was still a very attractive woman and maintained a trim figure.

“I have a little shop downtown on Fremont Street where I read fortunes,” Dolly said with the same pride she held for her showgirl days. “Been there quite a long time.”

Emma looked around the townhouse, understanding now some of the decor. Even though the complex was modern, Dolly’s home looked like an explosion of a gypsy wagon. While the ceilings were a plain creamy white, the walls were painted different bold colors, and brightly patterned rugs and cushions were scattered across the wood floor. The furnishings were solid and old and also brightly colored. Nothing seemed to match. Books and candles were everywhere. Dolly’s home definitely was not the norm for desert décor.

Knowing Milo and his quirky ways, Emma didn’t expect his mother to be a June Cleaver knockoff, but she wasn’t quite expecting Dolly. So far, she liked the woman. According to Tracy, she also liked and got along well with Dolly. There was something whimsical about Milo’s mother—a rare combination of daffy and wise under the hippy-dippy clothes and electric eye makeup. But Emma still wondered why Dolly hadn’t asked her son to check out Lenny.

“May I?” Emma asked, indicating she wanted to pick up Nicholas.

Dolly smiled. “He loves to be held and cuddled.”

Emma scooped up the solid baby boy and held him so he was facing her. He wiggled and cooed and touched her face, but his eyes never left Granny. They moved as she moved. Emma walked around Dolly’s dining area and living room with him, but Nicholas was determined to keep eye contact with Granny Apples. It wasn’t until Granny disappeared that he concentrated on Emma, changing his focus to her chunky necklace. When she walked back to the kitchen counter, the bold jewelry was quickly forgotten as the baby held out his arms—not to Dolly, but toward the overhead light.

“See what I mean?” Dolly held out her arms and Emma transferred the baby into them. “There’s something in that light. Something only Nicholas can see.”

Although she was in agreement, Emma kept her own counsel. She wanted to talk it over with Milo and see what he thought about the little boy’s behavior. Although Emma knew it was not uncommon for very young children to see or sense spirits, she’d never encountered one personally.

“It is odd, but let me think on this a bit, Dolly, and I’d like to discuss it with Milo. He’s really the expert.”

At Emma’s words, Dolly pursed her lips in disapproval. Or was it disappointment? Emma couldn’t tell.

“I’ll be in town for a few days. Do you mind if I drop by again?”

“Not at all. It would be a pleasure, Emma. I’m usually home until about four each day. After that you can find me at my shop, The Raven’s Craft. Milo has the address, but it’s easy to find. It’s located on Fremont Street almost across from The Golden Nugget. I usually arrive between five and six and stay quite late, depending on business.” She made a funny face at Nicholas as she wiped away a bit of drool with a napkin, but he still only had eyes for the light fixture.

Emma walked over to the wall next to the counter and flicked a light switch. Instantly the light overhead went out. She watched the baby, expecting him to lose interest in the now dark fixture. He didn’t.

Dolly bounced the baby. “I’ve tried that many times. It doesn’t matter if it’s on or not.”

“And he stares at it all the time?” Emma glanced up and thought she saw a hint of sparkle in the dark orb, but it quickly disappeared.

After some thought, Dolly answered, “Not all the time, no, but most of the time. Sometimes Nicholas giggles and plays like today. Other times he just stares up at it, as if he’s waiting for something.”

Emma turned to retrieve her purse from a nearby chair where she’d left it.

BOOK: Ghost of a Gamble (Granny Apples Mystery)
4.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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