THE DEAD WALK AMONG THE LIVING IN GEORGIA.
A month after losing Maxwell, Betty "Boo" Boorman is feeling lonely, isolated, and desperate to get away from reminders of her demon ex-boyfriend. When rival ghost hunter Carter Lansford approaches Betty with a wild story about zombies, Betty jumps at the chance to investigate.
An abandoned island resort off the coast of Georgia is infested with the walking dead, and a preservation team has asked Betty and Carter for help. The only thing worse than spending two weeks on an uninhabited island with Carter is having the whole thing filmed for a new reality show.
As Betty tries to put on a brave face for the camera, she faces stubborn ghosts, rotting corpses, and one very handsome historian.
GHOST OF A MEMORY, the third novel in the Betty Boo, Ghost Hunter series by paranormal romance author Beth Dolgner. Betty Boo, Ghost Hunter is a complete 4-book series. Look for ETERNAL REST BED & BREAKFAST, a brand new cozy paranormal mystery series by Dolgner set in Betty’s world.
There was the briefest moment of utter silence. Even the noise of the restaurant around us seemed to cease as each person at the table processed the words.
Then everyone began talking at once.
“How did this happen?”
“Mother, I think you know how it happens.” Daisy’s voice was sarcastic, but she was smiling broadly.READ MORE
“I just meant…I didn’t expect…so soon!” Daisy’s mom was usually as bubbly and talkative as her daughter, and her sudden loss for words prompted a round of laughter. She covered Daisy’s hand with her own. “I’m going to be a grandma. Oh, I’m so happy for you two!”
“Congratulations, Daisy. And to you, Shaun.” Daisy’s dad Ben was smiling, too, though he looked less overwhelmed than his wife. He playfully nudged her. “I guess you’ll have to learn how to change diapers again, Helen.”
I was the only one at the table who hadn’t responded to the news that my best friend and her husband were going to be parents. My smile, though, said enough for Daisy. “Aunt Betty is going to have to practice, too,” she said.
I raised my hands in defense. “No way. I’m not actually family, so I don’t have to do diaper duty! I will, however, be more than happy to spoil your child constantly.”
“So, how far along are you?” Helen asked.
“About six weeks.” Daisy looked at me poignantly. “I didn’t even suspect until a few weeks ago, and we wanted to make sure everything was good before we told anyone.”
Daisy was looking at me that way for one of two reasons. She was either trying to say, “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” or she was pointing out the fact that she had put not just her life, but her baby’s, at risk for me.
Well, not so much for me as for my ex-boyfriend.
My smile dissolved, and I chewed my lip thoughtfully while I considered all of the implications of Daisy’s news. Daisy and Shaun were two of the four members of The Savannah Spirit Seekers, the paranormal investigation team we’d formed while still in college. We’d been investigating reports of hauntings in Savannah, Georgia, for over two years now.
Daisy would probably be able to continue investigating for a while, but I couldn’t picture her sitting down on the floor of some old house while seven or eight months pregnant. And even if Daisy could investigate, I realized, some cases might be too dangerous for her now. Shaun, no doubt, would rather be with his wife than hanging out with ghosts. That left me and Lou to investigate, but I hadn’t heard from Lou in three weeks.
I suddenly felt very lonely.
I also felt guilty about having put Daisy and Shaun’s unborn child at risk when the two of them had agreed to help me rescue my boyfriend Maxwell from his demon captor. Thankfully, no one had gotten hurt on that adventure. In the end, we’d saved Maxwell’s life, and then he’d broken up with me.
That had been about a month ago, but I was still nursing those wounds. I sighed, and suddenly Shaun’s head was very close to mine. “You okay, Betty?” he asked quietly.
I blinked and cleared my head. “I’m good,” I said. “Sorry, it keeps happening.” Every time I found something to be happy about, thoughts of losing Maxwell would creep in, and I’d get all melancholy again. Even I was sick of the depressed Betty routine, so I knew all of my friends were, too.
“It’s all right,” Shaun said.
I pasted my smile back on my face. “So, Daisy, since you’re an intuitive woman, can you tell us if it’s a girl or a boy?”
Daisy made a show of considering before answering, “Yes.”
I managed to keep Maxwell out of my head for the remainder of our dinner. Daisy’s parents had come into town for Thanksgiving, which was just a week away. They had always treated me like part of the family since our first meeting during my freshman year of college. Daisy and I had shared a dorm room then, and it was funny to think that now my former roommate was going to be a mom. She and Shaun had been married for a year, and we’d graduated college a short time before their wedding. Life sure could change in a hurry.
When we parted on the sidewalk after dinner, I hugged Daisy. “Congratulations,” I said. “I’m really, really happy for you, and you’re going to be an incredible mom.”
“Thanks. And you’re going to be an incredible honorary aunt.” Daisy paused. “How are you doing, anyway?”
I shook my head. “This night isn’t about me. Besides, I’m fine.”
But I wasn’t fine. We’d eaten dinner at The Burglar Bar, where I had first met Maxwell. It really wasn’t fair that my absolute favorite restaurant in Savannah was also the scene of a memory that was so bittersweet. I had pushed away thoughts of him during dinner, but they crept back into my mind during my short walk home.
Maxwell had broken up with me because it was too dangerous for us to be together. He was a demon, and that meant he’d always live in fear of demon hunters tracking him down. It also meant that other demons might manipulate me, as his friend Tage had done. Tage had wanted me to sell my soul in exchange for Maxwell, whom he had in captivity. We had managed to rescue Maxwell and banish Tage back to hell, but my soul felt pretty weary, even though I hadn’t signed it over to anyone.
I had taken it pretty well when Maxwell broke up with me because I understood that he wanted to keep me safe. In the weeks that had followed, though, I’d only gotten more depressed.
I glanced to my left distractedly, checking for oncoming traffic before I crossed the street into one of Savannah’s green squares. I had already stepped out into the crosswalk when I stopped and looked sharply in the same direction.
Someone had been standing on the sidewalk about half a block away, his features hidden by the shadows, but I knew immediately that the dark silhouette perfectly matched Maxwell’s tall, lean frame. Of course, now that I was really looking, the sidewalk was empty.
I shook my head and continued walking. This made the eighth time in one month that I’d caught a glimpse of Maxwell. Every time, he was hidden in shadows or half-concealed by a crowd of people. And every time I tried to get a closer look, the vision would be gone.
Maybe Maxwell was following me, checking on me even though we weren’t dating anymore. It was also possible that I was losing my mind. Someone once told me that ghost hunting and interacting with paranormal entities could make you a little flighty. As I walked, I wondered if I’d bypassed flighty and gone straight to mental.
When I got home, I checked the answering machine out of habit. I wasn’t surprised that there were no messages waiting for me. People interested in having The Savannah Spirit Seekers out to investigate a potential haunting were the only ones who ever called that number—well, them and an endless stream of telemarketers—and no one had been calling lately. Things had gotten really busy for The Seekers back in September and October, right after some major publicity for a case we had worked on. But in the past few weeks, we’d gotten only two phone calls.
That was disappointing for me, and not just because I love ghost hunting. It would also have been a welcome distraction now that I was single again.
I slumped down on the couch, and my cat Mina immediately came and curled up by my side. Cats always seem to know when you’re feeling bad. I stroked her head with one hand and flipped on the television with the other. It had become my incredibly boring nightly routine.
The next day was Saturday, and it was more of the same empty hours. The only reprieve came when someone knocked on my door around six o’clock in the evening. I recognized my neighbor when I peeked through the window before opening the door. (I’d learned not to open the door to strangers; one knock on the head with a lamp is all it takes to break that habit.)
I live on the bottom floor of an historic carriage house that had been converted into apartments. The mansion that the carriage house is adjacent to is also divided into units. My neighbor had come by to give me a heads up that he was having a party in the courtyard between the two buildings that night. “It might be a little loud,” he said, apologizing in advance for any late-night rowdiness.
He didn’t even invite me to the party.
I was feeling pretty low by the time Monday morning rolled around, and I was glad to have work to look forward to. Those forty hours a week—more, if I could find an excuse to work late—were the brightest points of my life lately.
I walked into the administration offices of Coastal Health Hospital with a travel mug full of coffee and a barely-balanced plate of cupcakes for the break room. I’d had plenty of time on Sunday to do some baking.
“Oh, Betty, you brought goodies!” our receptionist greeted me. Jeanie deftly reached out and plucked a cupcake off the plate as I teetered past. “Thank you!”
I couldn’t help but smile at Jeanie’s constant perky demeanor. Her wedding was coming up in a month, and she was even sunnier and more cheerful than usual.
Because Thanksgiving was on Thursday and I also had Friday off, my workweek was only three days long. I was a little disappointed in that, since it also meant a very long and lonely four-day weekend was in store.
I sighed as I sat down at my desk and fired up my computer. “Betty,” I told myself out loud, “you have got to get your head on straight. A four-day weekend is supposed to be fun.” As if in answer, my eye caught the sticky note I’d put on my computer screen: “Get Awesome Life,” it read.
“Okay, I’ll try!” I said.
The e-mail that was waiting for me from Daisy wasn’t awesome, but it definitely got my day off to an intriguing start.
“Betty! You won’t believe what I heard from Mr. Lansford this morning,” Daisy’s message read. “It’s about zombies. Seriously. Call me during lunch.”
Daisy had recently gone to work at a prestigious law firm in Savannah. Mr. Lansford, the head of the firm, came from Old Savannah stock, and he was a prominent member of the community. Daisy had gotten the job through Mr. Lansford’s son Carter. It was all a little strange because, until recently, neither Daisy nor I had liked Carter. Lately, though, he had been nicer than usual, and he had really come through for us by teaming up on a couple of paranormal investigations with The Seekers. He had also gone with me to save Maxwell, and that right there had earned Carter a free pass for any of his usual snobbery.
Carter talking about zombies was one thing—it wouldn’t be the first time—but Mr. Lansford broaching the subject was definitely mysterious. I’m just a marketing assistant at Coastal Health, so I can’t get away with making personal calls on company time. Lunch suddenly couldn’t come soon enough.
Eventually, after wading through a stack of work that had to be done before Thanksgiving, the clock on my computer read noon. I wasted no time in closing the door to my tiny office and dialing Daisy on my cell.
“Oh, my gosh, Boo!” she answered. “Carter is totally up to something.”
“Of course he is.”
“But he’s up to even more than usual. Mr. Lansford said that Carter is going to be part of some big investigation on an island off the coast, and apparently, he’s investigating zombies instead of ghosts.”
“First of all,” I said, “there’s no such thing as zombies. I don’t care what Carter claims. And second, if there’s something ridiculous going on in the paranormal community, then of course Carter is involved in it.”
“Even Carter’s dad is excited about this one. There’s some historic preservation group involved, and supposedly it’s a really big deal.”
“Daisy, are you actually defending Carter Lansford?”
“No. Well, yes. I mean, he did get me the job here at his dad’s firm. And I know you don’t believe Carter’s hype, but Mr. Lansford is a down-to-earth guy who wouldn’t go around talking about zombies for no good reason.”
I laughed. “As long as Carter doesn’t get bitten and turn into a zombie, too. He’d never be happy without his regular manicures.”
Daisy didn’t hang up until promising me twice that she’d ply Mr. Lansford for more details.
I spent the rest of my afternoon trying to picture Carter’s pretty-boy looks transformed into the rotting flesh of a zombie. I giggled more than once.
Before I left work on Wednesday, Jeanie invited me to the bar in the basement of the Pink House for pre-Thanksgiving drinks. She and her fiancé were meeting a few friends there, and since the Pink House is walking distance from my apartment, she wouldn’t take any excuse for me not to be there.
“Besides,” Jeanie added as I walked out the door at five, “one of the guys coming tonight is really cute and really single.”
I groaned loudly, hoping she would get the hint that I didn’t want to be set up with anyone. Not right now, at least.
Unfortunately, Jeanie did not get the hint. I showed up in blue jeans and a light green sweater—it looked good with my auburn hair—and was surprised to see that Jeanie was wearing a black cocktail dress.
“Wow, I feel underdressed,” I said in greeting. “You look gorgeous.”
Jeanie tapped me on the shoulder playfully. “Oh, stop. Greg and I had dinner upstairs, so we decided to dress,” she said. I had met Greg a few times, when he’d stopped by Coastal Health, but tonight Jeanie’s fiancé looked like a model from a men’s clothing catalog. He wore a wide smile, just like Jeanie.
I guessed that Jeanie had ordered a cocktail or two while she and Greg ate in the nice restaurant upstairs, on the main floor of the Pink House. I’d only eaten there once, but the basement bar was a great place to go on a date. It was dark and cozy, with a blazing fireplace on each end and an old woman singing and playing on a piano. I thought it was probably what bars were like decades ago, when people got dressed up to go have a drink. I would have asked Maxwell, but he and I had never made it there together.
No sooner had I greeted Jeanie and Greg, and gotten an immediate sense of her high level of tipsy, than she grabbed me by the waist and pushed me in the direction of a cluster of people sitting on the couch and chairs by one of the fireplaces. “Everybody, this is Betty Boorman. She’s the ghost hunter I was telling you about!”
I got a few polite hellos before Jeanie steered me toward one particular guy. “This is Dennis. Dennis, Betty. Here, Betty, sit.”
Dennis flashed a smile at me. I tried to smile back, but I’m pretty sure that all I managed to do was look awkward. “Hi,” I said.
“Nice to meet you. Can I get you a drink?” Before I could answer, Dennis had flagged down a waitress. I ordered a glass of cabernet, then sat back and took a long look at the man who was currently giving me A Brief History of Dennis. He was a little heavyset, but he had nice features and dark, exotic eyes. Dennis clearly had no lack of self-confidence. My drink had already been delivered to me, and I was three or four sips in before he finally stopped talking. “So,” he said, “what about you?”
I made pleasant conversation as much as I could, but I could tell that Jeanie had given Dennis some sort of “she’s single and needs a man” speech earlier in the evening. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was so not interested.
I bought our second round—no way was I going to let him buy all my drinks—then made a show of yawning. “I’m so tired,” I said. “Two glasses of wine is just putting me to sleep. I think I’d better head home.”
I stood and extended my hand. “It was really nice to meet you,” I said, but even as I spoke, Dennis stood and shook his head.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” he said.
“I actually walked here from home. Thank you, though.”
“That’s right, Jeanie said you were close. How about I walk you home? It’s awfully late for you to be wandering the streets.”
I wanted to tell Dennis that being out at all hours of the night was pretty normal for me, but instead I opted for a polite, “No, thanks.”
He didn’t take the hint. He and Jeanie had that in common.
Jeanie saw us to the door, hugging both of us and giving me all kinds of significant looks.
Dennis kept up a constant stream of chatter on the way home, telling me something about how he had played football in college and had been some kind of star player. I wasn’t really listening because I was pretty sure we were being followed.
I had first noticed something odd when we walked up the stairs and onto the sidewalk in front of the Pink House. My eyes had turned to the square across the street, and I saw someone standing there underneath an oak tree. That someone had clearly been facing our direction. I instantly thought of Maxwell, but, as usual, when I tried to focus, the image just dissolved into the shadows.
I wrote this one off as an overactive imagination, but two blocks later, a glance down an alley showed the same form, staring out from the first level of a fire escape. I actually stopped that time, but the fire escape was empty when I squinted and peered into the alley.
We were just a block from my apartment when I began to hear footsteps behind us. They were quiet but deliberate, moving a little faster than the quick pace I was keeping in hopes of getting rid of Dennis as soon as possible. I tried to glance behind me casually, but saw nothing, so I stopped and turned around to see who was behind us.
There was no one.
Dennis had just given me a confused look when I’d stopped at the mouth of the alley, but this time he said, “What are you looking at?”
I shrugged. “Nothing.”
He laughed. “What, is there a ghost following us or something?” I detected a note of condescension in his voice. Despite Jeanie having introduced me as a ghost hunter, Dennis had never once asked me about it. When I mentioned it during our conversation at the Pink House, he had quickly changed the subject to something about himself.
I ignored his question and continued walking. I really needed to stop seeing Maxwell everywhere I went. No, I corrected myself, I need to stop thinking I’m seeing Maxwell everywhere. I couldn’t even walk home in peace.
Maybe, I suddenly thought, that’s the point. Maxwell’s job as a demon is to spread chaos and fear. The more he disrupted someone’s life, the happier he was. I hadn’t experienced that side of Maxwell. It was his true nature, I knew, but he’d always treated me well because he loved me. Still, I’d heard some of his stories about tormenting other people. He drove one woman to suicide after he kept her from saying good-bye to her dying husband.
Now that we weren’t dating anymore, maybe Maxwell had decided that I should be his next victim.
That thought filled me with fear. I was far too familiar with the power of demons, and I knew that protecting myself from one took a lot of strength, a lot of faith, and a really sharp blessed knife.
Maybe I should start carrying a blessed knife, I thought. Just a small one that I could hide in my purse.
It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have a knife in my purse, though, because I probably would have used it in the next instant when a burly man wearing a stained tee-shirt and ripped jeans suddenly stepped in front of me.COLLAPSE