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Inheriting her aunt’s old Maine cottage has led Avery Baker down a new career path—home renovation. Finding a property’s hidden potential has rewards and challenges—not to mention certain unanticipated dangers. Like murder…
Home renovation is never easy, especially when the home’s inhabitants are dead. Avery’s hunky boyfriend and business partner, Derek Ellis, wants to flip a seriously stigmatized ranch house where murder occurred two decades ago. It’s a good thing Avery has more faith in her boyfriend than in ghosts.
Their renovations are quickly interrupted when a presence is felt–and it’s not happy with the new alterations. Could it really be that the property is possessed? If they’re going to flip this house, all the outdated fixtures—including the supernatural squatters—must be disposed of, or else this project will haunt them forever…
“There is no such thing as ghosts,” I said firmly.
“Glad to hear it,” my partner in grime answered.
I squinted up at him, suspiciously. Not only is he quite a lot taller than me, but I was kneeling on the floor of my Second Empire Victorian cottage, putting the finishing touches on a chair I was reupholstering. He lounged in the doorway, scuffed boots crossed at the ankles and sculpted forearms crossed over his chest. “Why is that?”
He grinned, causing crinkles to form at the corners of his cornflower-blue eyes. “Because you won’t freak out when I tell you I bought a haunted house this morning.”
“You did what?!” I said, right on cue. He chuckled. I rolled my eyes. I love the guy – sort of – but his sense of humor can be a little trying at times. Those times when I’m the brunt of the joke, like now.
Derek Ellis and I had been business partners for just a few weeks and romantically involved for a few more. I had known him longer, but it had taken us a while to get to the point where we wanted to be this close.
Our joint venture, which had started out as Derek’s venture, was a home repair and renovation business headquartered in the small town of Waterfield, Maine. We both lived there, although not together. I had inherited my aunt’s house the previous May, while Derek lived in a converted loft above the hardware store in downtown. It has exposed brick, concrete kitchen counters, lacquered Scandinavian cabinets, and a whole lot of other things he won’t allow me to put into Aunt Inga’s house because it would mess with the original 1870s mojo.
When I first learned of Aunt Inga’s death and my inheritance, my plan had been to renovate the house and then sell it, and take the money I made back to New York to start my own textile design firm. But during the weeks I had spent in Maine getting everything ready, I had fallen in love with both the town and with Derek. So instead of going back to Manhattan at the end of the summer, I stayed in Waterfield. Ever since then, we had been keeping an eye out for a property to buy and renovate. Now, it seemed, we’d found one.
“A haunted house?” I repeated, picturing a gothic mansion with towers and turrets, clanking chains, and floating candles. None of those around here, at least not that I was aware of.
“Not that kind of haunted house,” Derek said. It wasn’t the first time he had demonstrated an ability to read my mind. “I’ll show you.” He reached down. I grabbed his hand, hard and warm, and let him haul me to my feet and guide me down the hallway to the front door.
Derek’s black truck was parked at the curb outside, its new Waterfield R&R sticker on the side door. Derek Ellis – proprietor; Avery Baker – designer, it said, beside a logo of an old house. I had drawn it myself, and now I smiled proudly at it – and at my name – before boosting myself onto the passenger seat.
“So where is this haunted house?” I wanted to know, when Derek had cranked the engine over and we were rolling down the steep hill toward downtown and the harbor. In the distance, the Atlantic Ocean blinked in the afternoon sun, and the leaves on the slender birch trees overhanging the narrow street were just starting to turn shades of yellow and pale orange.
“The other side of town. Down towards BarnhamCollege.”
I pictured the layout of Waterfield in my head, the town extending east, west, and north from the harbor. BarnhamCollege was on the west side of town, on the Portland road. “Near where Melissa and the Stenhams are building that new subdivision of half-million dollar McMansions?”
Melissa James was Derek’s ex-wife, and Ray Stenham her new boyfriend. He and his twin Randy, my distant cousins, owned a construction company which built (according to Derek, who might be allowed a certain amount of prejudice) shoddy condos and houses. Melissa is Waterfield’s premier real estate agent, and her job was to sell them, in most cases for a lot more than they were worth. (Again according to Derek, although I had to agree.)
“Between there and the college. An old subdivision of 1950s and ‘60s ranches and split-levels.”
“Your haunted house is a Brady Bunch split-level?” I started to laugh. So much for my vision of towers, turrets, and clanking chains.
Derek smiled back. “Actually, it’s a ranch. All on one floor. Over 2,000 square feet, three bedrooms, 2 baths, fireplace in the den, and hardwoods under the carpets. And it isn’t actually mine. Ours. Not yet. I offered to buy it – kind of off-handedly – a month or so ago, while you were in New York for a visit, and I just heard from the lawyer that our offer was accepted and we can have it if we still want it.”
“How much?” I asked, already starting to calculate repair costs and profit margins in my head.
“How much did I offer? Or how much do I think we’ll have to spend? I offered $95,000. I figure it’ll take 25 or 30 in materials, and after we’ve worked our tails off for a couple of months, we should be able to sell it for around $250,000.”
I nodded. “Sounds like a good deal. Why was it so cheap?”
“I told you,” Derek said, accelerating now that we were off the steep, narrow streets of Old Waterfield and on the main road going west, away from the ocean and into the afternoon sun. “It’s haunted.”
“And I told you there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
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