The Haunting on Palm Court
An Isle of Palms Suspense
southern fiction · romantic suspense · Isle of Palms, SC · paranormal · beach read
"...a romantic suspense novel so good that you must finish it in one sitting." —Readers' Favorite
Love triangles are complicated enough. Try adding a dead person to the equation…
After Blake Nelson catches her abusive fiancé, Parker, cheating on her with another woman, she escapes in search of serenity at her late grandmother's beach cottage. Unfortunately, Parker follows Blake to the island, where he attempts to kill her, but he ends up dying instead, following a chase with the police.
Parker’s malevolent spirit returns to the very cottage where it all began, seeking to finish what he started. As Blake reconnects with her first love, Clint, the haunting intensifies, putting Blake and her loved ones in mortal danger.
Will she be able to discover a way to banish Parker before it’s too late?
— scroll down to read book sample —
"If you like romance and the low country, ghosts and fun characters you will enjoy this book." —Christy Martin, Blogger, Reading and Writing Sentinel
“I love books about the low country of South Carolina and having the suspense of a ghosts made it even better. I couldn't put the book down. I was sorry when it ended, but I am anxious to read the next book.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“This book is a page turner.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“…you can devour this book in one sitting. It is that captivating, but I found myself stretching it out as I wanted it to last as long as possible. The characters are so vividly portrayed I felt like I could see them. The tension built as the hauntings became more violent. The Southern food and relaxed way of low country life had me craving a trip to the coast. Excellent read and I can't wait for the next book.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“If you love books set in the Lowcountry, then this book is for you! A little spooky, with a lot of suspense, this book is sure to keep you up at night!” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“What a fun and enjoyable tale. Exciting storyline and characters. What a horrible man and ghost. A fast-paced book that's funny and scary.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
“Fun read!!! Keeps you on the edge of your seat and biting your nails! Love how I am transported to the areas she describes with her words! Can’t wait to see what else the author has for us in the future!” —★★★★★ Reader Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie Edwards is a former journalist working as an author and corporate communications professional. Stephanie released her first novel, The Haunting on Palm Court, in 2020, and the sequel is scheduled to be published in 2021. Stephanie loves all things creative, especially writing, photography, and graphic design. She feels fortunate that she has been able to pursue a career in the field where her passion lies.
Stephanie Edwards has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications from the University of Tennessee, and is continuously looking for opportunities to be creative.
SAMPLE FROM THE HAUNTING ON PALM COURT
Standing in front of the window inside her island home, Julia S. Caroline Mason watched her granddaughter, Blake, step out of her car. Illuminated by the moon and streetlights, Blake’s long dark curls fell onto her face. She swept them back, revealing the tears that were streaming down her cheek. Julia bit her lip and clenched her hands. That wasn’t a good sign.
Blake was an upbeat person. She had worked hard to find her place in life, and nothing had set her off course until she met her fiancé, Parker Sutton. He’d captured her interest at what Julia had considered an unhealthy pace. Was Parker was responsible for the tears in her granddaughter’s eyes? Julia had never trusted him.
The slamming of the front door caught Julia’s attention. She ran down the steps to console Blake, who was sitting on the living room sofa with her head in her hands.
Julia sat down next to Blake and put her arm around her. “There, there. Please, honey, tell me what happened.”
“I don’t understand,” Blake whispered. She pulled out her cell phone and looked at a picture of her and Parker standing on the beach. “Why would he cheat on me?” She continued sobbing.
“He did what?” Julia demanded. She stared at her granddaughter in disbelief. Blake had inherited every attractive trait in the family
line. Even filled with tears, her hazel eyes sparkled. Her bronzed complexion even made her white t-shirt seem glamorous.
Blake didn’t answer. She curled up on the sofa and cried herself to sleep. Julia let her rest, trying to figure out what to do to help her feel better.
Julia’s best friend Nancy had always had a way of cheering up Blake when she was younger. Maybe Nancy could help distract her. It was worth a try.
The next morning, Julia walked over to Nancy’s house and let herself in through the kitchen door.
“Nan, you home?” No answer, but she’d wait.
A few minutes later, Nancy burst through the door, almost dropping two grocery bags full of produce. She balanced herself, set everything down on the counter. Red-faced, she drew a deep breath. “What’s the matter?”
Julia sighed. “Blake’s here. Parker couldn’t behave himself. She’s hurting. Can you talk to her?”
“I never trusted that son of a…” she started, but Julia waved her hand.
“Don’t waste your curse words on the likes of him. He’s not worth it.”
“I couldn’t agree more. Let me wash my face, and I’ll be ready to head over to your place.”
Julia nodded and sat at the table, waiting for Nancy. Thank goodness Nancy was free to help today. That child may have grown up into a woman, but she still needed her family, blood-related or not, to support her through this predicament. Julia feared that in a moment of weakness, Blake might return to Parker to give him a second chance, but infidelity should be the end of the narcissist’s reign in her granddaughter’s life. She deserved better—the best.
“Are you ready?” Nancy asked.
Julia hadn’t noticed her reenter the room. “Let’s chat before we leave.”
“Honey, I know what you’re gonna say. We need to keep her away from that—ahem, this ain’t the word I want to use—loser.” Nancy put her hands on her hips and snapped her head from side to side.
“Exactly. Blake doesn’t know much about my past or what’s coming in her life. It’s better if you explain it to her after her heart has recovered from this affair nonsense. After you do, I’ll find the right time to approach her and say my piece.”
“Are you sure the child’s mother shouldn’t talk to her first?” Nancy stared at Julia.
“No. Susan doesn’t understand the first thing about that part of my life, and, even if she did, I doubt she’d want to share it with Blake. She’s never...believed.” Julia looked down at her folded hands, which were resting on the knotty pine table that had once sat in her own kitchen.
“Very well. I love Blake like family, as I do all of your kinfolk.” Nancy placed her hands over Julia’s and smiled. “It’s my honor to help watch over her and make sure the loser leaves her alone.”
“Thank you. Us blood sisters gotta stick together.” Julia winked at Nancy.
“Amen to that. Our friendship makes the world go ‘round.” Nancy smiled.
Nancy had bailed her out of a pickle so many times she couldn’t count them on one hand. They had been friends since their youth, seeing each other through marriages, the births of their children and the deaths of their husbands. She trusted Nancy more than almost anyone.
Nancy grabbed her purse off a cast-iron hook on the wall and looked over her shoulder at Julia. “Okay, let’s go talk to that granddaughter of yours.”
Julia nodded and stood up.
They made the five-minute walk to the cottage in silence. Nancy didn’t need to say anything. Julia knew she was planning out what to say to Blake to convince her to stay on Isle of Palms long enough to make her forget Parker’s indiscretions. She hoped her granddaughter would be receptive to Nancy’s firm but nurturing ways. It would be a delicate dance. Blake embodied the powerful, modern woman, except when it came to Parker. When he snapped his fingers, she came running. If anyone could keep her from making that mistake again, it was Nancy.
When the cottage came into view, Julia’s heart fluttered. This weathered beach home was still a beauty. The memories of her life with her family flooded her heart. Now her granddaughter needed the solace this house had once provided Julia when her husband of 40 years had died. Its comforting, sun-filled rooms had warmed her soul and provided a nest for rebuilding her life and heart. She sighed. Thank you, old house.
Julia turned to Nancy and asked her to wait for a minute. “Let me go check on her. I don’t want her to think we’re ambushing her…even if we are.”
Nancy nodded. Julia entered the cottage and looked through the first-floor rooms, but she didn’t see Blake. She must be upstairs. Julia found her granddaughter fast asleep on her childhood bed. She bent over to kiss Blake on the cheek and slipped back out of the house.
Julia found Nancy standing under the willow tree. “Blake was asleep. I couldn’t bear to wake her. She’ll come to you when she’s ready, and I’m betting it will be sooner rather than later. I think you’ll be able to convince her to stay here and as far away from him as she can.”
“I agree. If she was in that big of a hurry to leave Knoxville, she must have plans to stick around for a while. I’ll do what I can to make her think it’s her idea.” Nancy grinned, but her smile faded and her eyes narrowed. “You remember her as the girl who wore her curls in pigtails. Blake is an adult now. She deserves to learn her family history, what you did, your book…what she’s capable of herself.”
Julia agreed, in part. She wanted to appear to Blake and explain everything now, but the news would shock her granddaughter. Being on the Other Side of the grave carried disadvantages, despite Julia’s gifts. “Nan, I trust you to break the news to her at the right time.”
Nancy pursed her lips. “I’ll do whatever you need me to.”
“Thank you. I’m sure she’ll come by the restaurant soon.”
Julia planned to be there every step of the way.
Chapter 1: The Day Before
Blake Nelson was on a mission—tonight, she would persuade her fiancé, Parker, to set a date for their wedding.
Two candles cast their half-moon crescents onto the otherwise dark dining room ceiling. The rich scent of skillet-seared steak and her spicy perfume filled the air. Her slinky dress and the seductive jazz music playing in the background set the tone.
She checked her makeup in the hallway mirror, fluffed her dark curls and admired her curvy figure. Shimmery gold shadow gave her eyes a bewitching glow, and the pale pink gloss she applied added a subtle shine to her full lips. Satisfied with her appearance, she poured a glass of chardonnay and relaxed on an oversized leather chair while she waited for Parker.
An hour past his usual arrival time, Blake texted him to ask if he was working late, but he didn’t reply. She’d mentioned cooking a special dinner for him that morning as they were leaving their downtown Knoxville apartment for work. She dialed his number.
On the fifth ring, he picked up. “What?”
“Hi, did you forget I was making dinner for us tonight? I made…”
He interrupted her, “I don’t have time for this.”
“But, dinner’s ready. I made your favorite meal. I’ve been looking forward to spending the evening with you.”
“Whatever. I’ll be there when I’m there.” The line went dead.
She slammed her phone down on the coffee table and crossed her arms. Before she met Parker, she wouldn’t have stayed home on a Friday night. Blake needed to talk to someone. Her sister, Brittany, was studying for finals, so she’d be around. Blake texted her and asked her to video chat.
After opening her chat app, Brittany’s face popped up on screen. “Hey, what’s up?” she signed in American Sign Language. Brittany had lost her hearing at the age of two, following a high fever. In addition to signing, she read lips and spoke vocally.
Blake waved and signed, “Do you have a minute?”
“Definitely. I’m ready for a break.” Brittany laughed.
Blake clenched her jaw. “I’m so effin’ mad right now. I’m trying to chill. Parker stood me up for dinner tonight.”
“Oh, my God. Weren’t you planning to set the date tonight?”
“Yep.” Blake sighed.
“Um…why are you with him? You deserve better.”
Blake paused. “Well, he’s been going through a lot lately. His
job has been stressful, and his sister just died. Things will get better again.” She’d called Brittany for support. Her sister was right, so why was she defending Parker’s actions?
“I hope so,” Brittany signed.
“Sorry I bothered you while you were studying. I’ll let you get back to it. Good luck with your exams.” Blake ended the video chat.
She shouldn’t have called her sister. Brittany was engaged to her high school boyfriend, Ryan. Their love-at-first-sight relationship was next to perfect. She wouldn’t understand.
Before Blake met Parker, marriage had not been a priority. She had intended to spend her downtime traveling to experience the world. However, that changed when her boss, Sharon, the owner of the McKinley-Johnson Marketing Firm, moved his family’s account to her.
After just two meetings, Blake had found herself mesmerized by his piercing green eyes and perfect smile. Parker always got what he wanted with a smooth demeanor, something that had captured Blake’s attention. She was confident she had captivated him, too, as he lingered at meetings longer than most clients.
Her heart jumped each time he accidentally touched her hand or shoulder. When he asked her out, Blake had accepted. As their relationship had grown more serious, Parker had made it clear her priorities needed to change. Flattered by his affection, she had put plans with her friends and family on the back burner, attending social events where he’d demanded her presence instead. Blake had emphatically accepted his marriage proposal after one year of dating.
Now, almost two years after their engagement, Blake couldn’t help but feel his focus had shifted from her to something else. Late nights apart were becoming commonplace. When she’d tried to ask him if everything was okay, he’d told her how busy he was with work.
Parker’s twin sister, who had lived overseas, had disappeared almost a year ago. Blake never had the opportunity to meet Maggie, a successful maritime lawyer, who rarely took a day off from work. The couple had planned to visit Maggie the week of her disappearance. The news had come as a shock to Parker. He had slipped into a deep depression for the first few months. Eventually, he recovered, but his relationship with Blake wasn’t the same. She was happy to be patient and supportive, but she hoped that by setting a date, he would find a renewed passion for being with her.
She had been oblivious to the ever-shrinking candles on their dinner table. Perhaps their relationship had met a similar expiration date, but Blake was not a quitter. She had to give it one more shot to flourish. Blake blew out the candles and changed into yoga pants and her most comfortable tank top. After putting away the steak, she received a text from Parker. I’m working overnight.
Long workdays weren’t unusual for him. Blake fought back the tears as she flipped through her saved streaming shows and scrolled through her social media pages. No one was posting anything of interest. She thought about walking to Preservation Pub on Market Square to see if any of her friends were there, but Parker didn’t like her going out on the town without him.
The last time she had met up with some work friends for a happy hour, he had given her the silent treatment for a week and slammed the heavy oak doors in their apartment every time he left a room. Parker had refused to talk to Blake until he pushed her into the granite countertop in their kitchen, bruising her hip.
After the accident, he’d apologized, saying it would never happen again. He’d sent a dozen roses and a black pair of Louboutin pumps to her office the next day. It could be worse.
She gritted her teeth but decided it wasn’t worth the frustration of having to live with his passive-aggressive bullshit. If he was working late, she might as well be productive herself. Her boss, Sharon, had mentioned a new prospective client before they left the office that day, so she called her to get the details.
Blake paced the dining room floor, waiting for Sharon to answer. She started to hang up, but Sharon finally answered.
“Hi,” she said, breathless as if she’d been running. “Don’t you have plans tonight?”
Blake bit her lip. Parker would be angry if she discussed their relationship, so she glossed over the subject. “No. Parker had to work late, so I thought I’d start prepping for our meeting with the new client. What do you know about them?”
Several seconds of silence passed. Blake pulled her phone away from her ear to make sure the call was still active.
“Sharon? Are you still there?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry…shh, stop it.” Sharon giggled. Blake heard a man whispering to Sharon. Bryce, Sharon’s husband, was out of town, but she had a reputation for having other friends stop by while he was away.
“Do you need to call me back?” she asked.
“Sorry, I just got distracted for a second. Next year, the owners will open several restaurants in Chattanooga and Knoxville. They want us to help rebrand their business and web presence and build a social and PR campaign.”
As Blake and Sharon discussed the client further, more texts from Parker rolled in—I will definitely be here late. I’m sure you’re upset. I’ll take you shopping for a new purse this weekend. If you still have my credit card, buy yourself whatever you want. She responded to him a few times. With each response, she heard his text notification, the sound of a banging gavel, over the phone.
Was Parker with Sharon? No, he couldn’t be.
“Hey, Sharon, I need to go. Someone’s at the door.” She tried to maintain the illusion that she was okay. But pacing back and forth on the creaky hardwood floors of their apartment, she had to be honest with herself.
After she hung up the phone, Blake gave in to paranoia and searched the house for Parker’s tablet to verify his location through his connected devices. When she didn’t find it, Blake needed to put her mind at ease. She grabbed her keys and purse and drove to Sharon’s house.
Why do I have an overactive imagination?
But she couldn’t lie to herself when she rounded the corner to Sharon’s house, and there sat Parker’s blue Italian sports car with its customized plate, 8URLNCH.
Blake trudged to the front door, determined to confront them. As she peered into the bay window from the front porch of Sharon’s Parkridge Victorian home, she saw everything she needed to confirm her suspicions through the crack of the curtains.
There lay slender, dark-haired Parker and curvaceous, redheaded Sharon, naked by the fireplace. He was caressing Sharon’s face like she was his entire world.
Tears stung Blake’s eyes, and her heart sank. She leaned in closer to the window to snap a picture of the scene with her cell phone, planning to send a copy of the photo to Parker, break off their relationship via text and leave. But her adrenaline and emotions got the best of her, and an uncontrollable rage built up inside her.
What a cheating asshole! She kicked the foundation of the house, but the lovers didn’t stir, and Blake’s anger multiplied. She picked up a small but heavy decorative planter and hurled it through the window, shattering the glass into hundreds of pieces.
Sharon and Parker looked at the window, but it was dark. As Blake ran away, she heard him yelling, “Who’s there?” She had some lead time while he found his pants but needed to leave before he discovered she was the one who had disrupted his indiscretion. She was unsure of how he would react.
Without so much as going home to pack a bag, she ran back to her car and mindlessly drove to the one place where she would be safe, her late grandmother’s beach cottage on Isle of Palms. Although her grandmother had passed away more than a decade ago, the family had maintained the property as a vacation home. The cottage was a vault for happy memories for Blake and her family. With the current state of her life, it was the only place she could find comfort.
After the six-hour drive, she parked her car and stood in the driveway taking in the weathered but gorgeous cottage. Tiny white flower petals swirled in the wind, collecting like snow at Blake’s feet as she walked across the sand and shell driveway. A pair of fireflies led the way, dancing across the wide front porch to the double-door entrance. She inhaled the salty air and sighed, running her hands through her long, dark curls, matted from being windblown during the drive.
Upon opening the front door, her grandmother’s loving presence washed over her, welcoming her home. She could almost smell her granny’s homemade biscuits baking in the oven and had to fight the urge to find and hug her. She dropped her purse and keys on the kitchen table and crashed on the living room couch. Tossing and turning, she woke covered in sweat.
Blake walked to the bedroom where she had spent her childhood summers and holidays. Memories of her granny teaching her how to swim in the ocean, fry chicken and, most importantly, love with all her heart flooded her mind. She smiled, but then the image of Sharon and Parker together disturbed her.
She collapsed onto the mattress and stared at the gold-flecked popcorn ceiling above her bed. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she flipped through old pictures. Images of their special moments filled her phone screen, including hiking in their beloved Smoky Mountains, European and beach vacations, and gatherings with their family and friends.
All the pictures had one thing in common—his piercing green eyes looked determined to get what he wanted. For the first time, Blake saw him for what he was: a controlling, possessive egomaniac.
It was time to reclaim her independence and regain the strength she had lost during their relationship.
Blake shifted in the bed, and something sharp poked her hip. She reached into the inside pocket of her yoga pants to find Parker’s credit card, which she had used for an online pizza order the previous evening. The bruise from the night he’d pushed her into the countertop was still blue and sore.
She screamed in frustration. Even in her haven, she couldn’t get away from Parker.
Blake’s stomach rumbled, awakening her from a fitful sleep. B It was lunchtime, and she hadn’t eaten in almost a day.
A quick scan of the pantry made it clear none of her family members had been there in months. In her foggy and hungry state, she got into her car and drove to an Isle of Palms icon—the Sea Biscuit Cafe. Not only was their food deliciously comforting, but her grandmother’s best friend, Nancy Parsons, worked there as a waitress and surrogate mother to her regular customers.
As Blake walked into the restaurant, Nancy’s face lit up. She floated across the room and squeezed Blake, making her gasp for air. Nancy was strong for being a petite seventy-seven-year-old woman. Despite her white hair and wrinkled skin, she had a youthful exuberance that shined through her very core.
“Honey, I haven’t seen you in so long! I wasn’t expecting you this weekend. Let’s sit for a spell. How’s your mom an’ ‘em?” Clutching her signature pearls, she took a step back and looked Blake up and down. “Are you all right, hon?”
Blake was still wearing her faded yoga pants and the smudged remnants of yesterday’s mascara. Before she answered, Nancy had disappeared to the kitchen and quickly returned with a stack of pecan pancakes and a pot of coffee.
“Spill the beans, child.” Nancy poured Blake a cup. “What you’ve been through, not the coffee.” She winked and sat down next to Blake, buttering a biscuit and hanging onto every excruciating detail she provided. Nancy wrapped her arms around her and wiped Blake’s tears away with a napkin.
Blake sniffed. “I’ve wasted three years on a man who loves someone else. Last night, I saw them together, completely naked. I thought we had a future together. I feel so stupid.”
“Now, now, don’t be so hard on yourself. We’ve all made mistakes. After all, we’re only human.” Nancy patted her shoulder. “Anyway, Parker sounds like a peach gone to rot, and so does Sharon. I don’t blame you for running away. When did you get here?” Nancy pushed more food in front of Blake.
“Late last night—I drove straight to the cottage right after I saw them together. Well, right after I threw a small ficus through her window.”
Nancy bit her lip, stifling a giggle. “Bless your heart. They deserved worse, but you know what they say about karma. They’ll get their just desserts.”
Making her way through a stack of pancakes, Blake pushed up the sleeves of her long-sleeved T-shirt.
Nancy gasped, grabbing Blake’s arm, examining four purple fingerprints and flipping over her arm to reveal a thumbprint. “What in Sam Hill is on your arm? Did that sorry S.O.B. do that to you?”
Blake shifted in her seat and looked at her plate. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Well, that’s too bad. If your granny knew Parker had hit you, why, she’d turn over in her grave and cut off his eel and oysters. You’d best not talk to him again. I’m gonna send Clint to talk to you. You need to file a police report.”
Nancy’s grandson Clint, who she’d raised, was the Isle of Palms Police Chief, and Blake had dated him throughout her teenage years. Other than Parker, Clint was the last person she wanted to see right now.
“Parker hasn’t ever hit me. I pulled my arm away from him when he didn’t want me to leave for work one morning. He just doesn’t realize how strong he is.”
Nancy shook her head. “That’s still abuse. You need to protect yourself.”
Blake sighed. “Seriously. I’m okay. He doesn’t know I’m here.” “If you hear from him, call me,” Nancy said. “I’ll be there in a heartbeat. Speaking of which, I want to get together with you. How does dinner tomorrow sound?”
“That works for me.”
“Great, sugar. I’ll swing by to pick you up at seven. I’ve got to
get back to my customers now. You rest up, and we’ll talk more tomorrow.” Nancy hugged her.
Blake thanked her for the meal that warmed her stomach and soul. When she reached for her purse, Nancy clasped her hands over hers. “It’s on the house, hon.”
“Thank you. See you tomorrow.”
Blake slid out of her seat and walked toward the row of souvenir shops and the beach access that lay ahead. This section of the island had been the backdrop for her childhood summers. The rocky road ice cream from her favorite vendor called her name. She ordered a heaping scoop for old times’ sake, paid the cashier and began walking to the expansive sandy beach.
The March wind pierced her skin, but she forgot the chill in the air when the sparkling grayish-blue water came into view. Blake stared at the horizon. The ebbing tide pulled her problems to the surface, and as it retreated, took them away. She spread out a towel and allowed the beach book she’d brought along to transport her to its pages.
As the sun began setting, she shivered. It was time to go home. She pulled herself up off the sand and re-engaged with reality. A dozen shorebirds chattered in front of the beachfront hotels and homes as she walked to her car. The evening traffic offered little resistance as she parked under the oak-draped canopy that framed the roofline of her grandmother’s cottage.
She had never stopped to appreciate the unique setting. On one side lay the entrance to powdery sand and shimmering waters, the other to an old Charleston-style homestead where the Spanish moss waved in the wind. Stars peeked through the canopy, glowing like spotlights on Granny Mason’s prized rose and azalea bushes.
The next morning, she woke to the doorbell ringing. Blake yawned and stretched, padding down the steps. Who would visit at eight a.m.?
Blake opened the front door. Nancy’s grandson, Clint, was clutching a small red cooler. His police uniform fit his muscular body to a “T.” She diverted her gaze. The last thing she needed was Clint thinking she wanted to rekindle their old flame.
He smiled but didn’t maintain eye contact with her. “Long time, no see.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Blake’s eyes widened. “You’ve gotta be kidding me! That’s what you have to say to me after ghosting me and not talking to me for 15 years?”
Clint put his hands up. “Hey…can we call a truce? We were just kids, and I didn’t know better. Besides, I’m just dropping off some food from Gram. She has company and couldn’t get away, so she asked me to come by.”
Indeed, Nancy would do that. Although Clint was her grandson, she had raised him and his brothers. They couldn’t do any wrong in her eyes. Even Nancy had faults.
Blake glared at him, grabbing the cooler out of his hands. “Thanks for bringing the food, but you can leave now. Do I need to show you the way out?” She motioned toward the door.
He waved his hands at her and laughed. “Hey. No need to get feisty. I’ll manage on my own. Enjoy your breakfast.”
As she closed the door, he called out to her. “Hey. Gram said you needed to talk to me about your fiancé. If you want to file a report, stop by the station anytime, and I’ll call the Knoxville PD.”
Blake leaned against the partially cracked door and drew a deep breath. He stared at her as she opened the door a smidge wider.
“Thanks for the offer,” she said. “I’m fine now that I’m here. I just needed to get away from Parker.”
Clint nodded. “The offer doesn’t expire. Just text me,” he said. “Me and some of the guys from the station play at the Windjammer twice a month. We usually go on at seven. You should stop by sometime. It’s a good crowd.”
Blake bit her lip and simmered as he walked away. When they were younger, Clint had broken up with her without explanation. He still made her blood boil, but she checked out his sculpted body again as he climbed into his Jeep Wrangler. A flashback of him playing guitar and singing on the beach came to mind. Maybe she would stop by the beach bar to see him perform at some point, but for now, Nancy’s comfort food was calling her name.
The intoxicating scent of comfort food seeped out of the cooler. Blake’s stomach growled. Opening the lid, she found fried chicken, biscuits, peach cobbler and a small bottle of homemade sweet muscadine wine, along with a note: Take care of yourself, hon. Love, Nancy.
“Aww—how sweet! Too bad your grandson broke my heart. He’s still pretty cute.”
She sighed, filled a plate and a wineglass, and walked to the luscious garden, surrounded by colorful blossoms and her grandmother’s loving presence. Comfort food was the universal language of love and hospitality in the South. Nancy embodied this concept wholeheartedly, just as Granny Mason had. Their similarities did not end there, including their love for the Nelson family. They were lucky to have Nancy’s devotion.
Something rustled in the bushes, capturing Blake’s attention. She grabbed a nearby gardening shovel with a tight grip and spun around. A beautiful child with dark curls jumped onto the old tire swing Blake and her siblings had enjoyed during their childhood. The girl locked eyes with her before turning away to jump off the swing and run behind the potting shed.
“You don’t have to go. I won’t hurt you. You just startled me,” Blake called out while walking over to where the girl was hiding. But when she peeked behind the shed, the child had vanished.
Just as well. Blake sat back down to eat dinner, hoping that a second glass of wine would help her forget Parker and Sharon’s affair.
She picked up her phone and a blanket and moved to a hammock where the ocean breeze and swaying tree canopy lulled her to sleep. Unsettling dreams interrupted her slumber. First, she dreamed of Parker and Sharon, getting married and toasting their nuptials, laughing at how they had toyed with her life. Then of Granny Mason’s last month on Earth. She had refused chemotherapy, saying if it was her time to go, she was ready. Her late-discovered lung cancer had surprised the entire family. She’d always been their rock, their matriarch.
Just before her grandmother died, she had turned to Blake, squeezed her hand and whispered, “You will see hardship, but the way you rise from the ashes will be everything. I’ll always be with you.” Alone, Blake had sobbed and laid on Julia Caroline’s chest until her grandmother drew her last breath.
Children’s delighted laughter woke Blake from her fitful sleep. The girl had returned with a somewhat older boy, around nine years old. Blake grinned while they played and giggled. “You’re welcome to stay and play as long as you’d like.”
They smiled, nodded and went back to swinging.
Her phone rang in the cottage. She got up from the hammock and ran inside to answer the call.
“Hey, where are you? It’s not like you to be late,” Anna, her boss’s assistant, said.
Blake wanted to tell Anna every dirty detail of Parker and Sharon’s affair, but she bit her tongue. “I had to leave town last-minute on Friday for a family emergency. Please reschedule my appointments for the rest of the week.”
“I’ll be happy to take care of that for you. I hope things get better for your family. Call me if you need anything else.”
“Thanks, Anna.” Blake hung up the phone and looked out the kitchen window. The girl climbed onto the tire swing, and the boy pushed her into the air.
Blake turned away to reach into the fridge to scavenge some leftovers from Nancy’s provisions. After she made her plate, the children’s laughter had stopped.
Where did they go? Are their parents okay with them playing on their own?
Something hard hit the back of her skull. The room tilted, blurred and darkened as her body collapsed onto the floor. She attempted to scream, but no sound came from her vocal cords. Blake grasped her head. Warm blood oozed through her hands and down her neck as she lost consciousness.
Pivotal moments in Blake’s life flashed before her—first as a child winning her first carnival game, then as a teenager performing the lead role in her school play, her college graduation and, finally, the night Parker had proposed. She was on a cloud, climbing up higher and higher into the sky until she eventually fell through the bottom and into the depths of the ocean.
She came to with the plush rug from Granny Mason’s bedroom underneath her.
Who had moved her from the kitchen? Who had knocked her out?
Her head throbbing, she pulled herself up off the floor. On the four-poster canopy bed, sat Granny Mason.
Blake rubbed her eyes. She had seen ghosts throughout her adult life. There had been no rhyme or reason to when a supernatural being revealed itself to her. She’d always been too afraid to mention it to anyone. Some specters had appeared once for only a few moments while others had returned multiple times. But until now, her grandmother’s spirit, the one she’d longed to see the most, had never appeared.
Trembling, she ran over to Granny Mason with her arms outstretched and teardrops falling. Her grandmother embraced her and stroked her hair. “My sweet Blake, you’re alive, and you’re stronger than you think. You must fight. Now go.”
Granny Mason pulled away from her and pointed to the door. Realizing she must still be unconscious, Blake pulled herself together and ran through the house looking for a door that would allow her to wake up and return to reality. She ran to open her bedroom door. Her look-alike-doll was suspended from the ceiling, hanging from its neck.
Blake screamed and ran out of the room, trying each of the remaining second-floor bedroom doors to find all of them locked. She ran down the staircase and opened the door to her parents’ bedroom to see her mother.
“Thank God! Mom! You’re here. Please help me!”
“Okay. Yeah. I’m listening. Tell me more.” Susan scratched her head.
“Someone hit me over the head, and I’m having an out-of-body experience. I can’t seem to find myself.”
“Oh, no big deal. Don’t worry about that at all.”
“What?” Blake shrieked in desperation and threw her hands up in the air. Then, she saw Susan’s hair had covered a Bluetooth earbud.
She shook her mother’s body, but Susan didn’t notice. She stood up and started putting away folded laundry. Devastated, Blake threw her arms around her mother’s neck.
“Mom, it doesn’t seem like you can hear me, but just in case I don’t wake up again, I want to say I love you.”
Crying, Blake walked to the kitchen and sat down to think. Something told her to exit and reenter the house. As she turned the doorknob to the front door, a jolt of electricity flooded her body. Her hunch was right.
Blake had to follow Granny Mason’s advice. She had to fight.