Ghost Mortem - Chapter One

ReGina Welling

Here's a sneak peek at the first chapter of Ghost Mortem, the first book in the Haunted Everly After series. Over each of the next few days at noon, a new chapter by a different author will pop up, and you can enter to win a book AND be entered in the grand prize!

Sneak Peek Ghost Mortem

The days that change your life don’t always start with a bang, but sometimes they end with one.

“Oh, baby. Yes.” The purring feminine voice slid through the crack in my bedroom door and turned my insides liquid. My ears buzzed, my vision blurred, and my mind raced frantically as I tried to think of alternatives for the sounds coming from inside.

Yeah, I knew there was no better explanation, but my brain didn’t want to believe what I would see on the other side of the door if I looked, and I didn’t want to look.

But I did. The tiniest peek through the crack between the door, and the frame was enough. More than enough, actually.

Teeth clamping down on the inside of my cheek, I bit back a scream until it lodged in the back of my throat while my marriage shattered to pieces that fell soundlessly to the hardwood floor. Fight or flight crashed over me in a rush of adrenaline and propelled me back down the stairs.

My pulse pounding in my ears, I fled to the garage, yanked my car door open to leave, then shut it again. Running away wouldn't be as satisfying as confronting the situation head-on. Besides, I had to do something. I had to make them see how they'd hurt me. Find something to put a stop to the betrayal happening in my bedroom.

My eyes searched the depressingly empty garage and found nothing useful hanging on the barren walls.

We’d never been one of those handy couples with cabinets full of tools who could whip up a backyard arbor or bench in a weekend. We weren’t sporty people, either, with bats or tennis rackets or golf clubs stashed away in cabinets. In fact, Mother Hubbard would have felt right at home in the echoing space.

Frantic with purpose, I made my way back inside, into the kitchen, and struck solid gold. Carefully and quietly, I chose and readied my weapon, settled it firmly in hand, slipped off my shoes, and crept slowly back up the stairs.

All the way down the hall, I wondered if it was weird to hope they weren’t finished so that I could enjoy the looks on their faces when they saw me looming over them. Maybe. But I needed to take action, make a statement, do something epic to keep from falling apart.

Her eyes were closed, his back arched as he rose over her when I crept into the room, their noises covering mine even as I made my way closer to the bed.

My heart lurched and my vision narrowed, but I banished all traces of second thoughts and stepped closer.

A dozen phrases sprang to mind. In the end, I made only a strangled sound as I tipped the bucket and let the cold, wet shock of ice water put an end to their treachery. I couldn’t have spoken anyway; my throat was too busy working with the effort to hold back sobs of pain and anger.

What? You thought I had a knife or something? Tempting, but I’m not that kind of person.

My husband rolled off his bed partner, shivered once and blinked up at me with dark, shock-glazed eyes. If I’d ever found the man handsome, I didn’t anymore. He lost even more of his appeal when it wasn’t shame that settled over his face, but defiance. She at least had the grace to look away and pull the sheet more snugly around her body.

I burned him with a look. Hurtful words with sharp edges tumbled through my head, none seeming strong enough to cut to the depth of his betrayal, so I bit them all back and ground out a warning, “Don’t say a word. Not a single word.”  If I screamed now, I might never stop.

He did though. One word. “Everly.” It came out flat and toneless. Not a plea or an atonement. And he still cradled her head against his chest as if to protect her from the situation when I was the one who had just been cut open and left to bleed.

“I said don’t. We’re over.”  No glib assurances would change the situation. If he bothered to try, I didn’t hear him over the thrum in my ears and the booming echo in my head.

Go. Just get out. Now.

My inner voice made sense, and so I ran. Or maybe I walked or stumbled. To be honest, I’m not really sure what happened between the time I left the room and when I found myself standing in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel, staring into my purse as if it held the secrets of the universe. The twenty-minute drive evaporated out of my head like mist burned away by the sun.

After watching me for a moment or two, the desk clerk murmured in a respectful tone, “Are you all right, Mrs. Hastings?”

Um, no. Not even a little bit. I sucked back the laugh that bubbled into my throat in case it popped out in a burst of hysteria, fumbled my debit card out, and paid for a suite. 

On any other day, I’d have run to my closest friend’s house for sanctuary, but since hers had been the face looking up at me from beneath my husband, that was no longer an option. Another giggle threatened at the thought, and so did tears that burned and stung.

“I’m fine.” I lied and watched the clerk’s lips curve into a knowing smile as he observed my lack of luggage. Excuse me for not taking time to pack when my life was falling apart. All I wanted was a dark room in a private space where I could think. Or better yet, not think. I didn't need him judging me in any case. It took more than gritting my teeth to keep from yelling at him to just hurry up and give me the key card, and more effort still to make it to the room.

As soon as I pushed the door shut with a gentle click, everything that had been building up inside me broke, and I’m ashamed to say I did, too.

If the next few hours constitute my greatest moments of weakness, then I’ll own each and every minute of the time spent burrowed in the bed examining my marriage under the microscope of hindsight.

Once I knew to look for them, the signs stood out in bright neon. The little touches, the conspiratorial smiles. The way he’d put his hand on both our backs if the three of us walked into a room together. 

What hurt the most was knowing she’d probably told him my every secret.

Not that I had many to keep. But let’s face it, women tell each other the petty things that go on in their lives, and husbands tend to be involved in those.

What did it say about me that with time and some world class groveling, I might—maybe—have been able to consider forgiving him, but she would be dead to me forever? Probably more about my marriage than I was ready to admit at that particular moment.

Day turned to night, then to breaking dawn. I didn’t sleep. Paul didn’t call, and my ego took another drastic hit. Whether or not I could have forgiven him, I don’t think less of myself for wanting him to ask.

Or for considering whether or not to call in sick to work.

Paul came from money. Enough that his family’s philanthropic interests required a full staff to coordinate, and since he hadn’t wanted me to get a job, I’d been serving as the Director of Development for the charitable arm of the business for the past few years. An unpaid position, but one I’d found fulfilling.

Until today, when working for the family of the man who had just cheated on me wasn’t high on the list of things I wanted to do. But, since we were in the midst of putting on an event, I decided the homeless need not suffer because my life hit the skids.

The time to wallow had passed.

At the office, I pulled into my parking space and tried to muster up the energy to go inside.

Would anyone notice I was wearing the same clothes from the day before? Did I really care? Since the answer to both questions was the same, I had to force myself out of the car.

I could condense my day into a couple of hours of work if I delegated, and then what? Go home and deal with all that I wanted to avoid. Maybe I’d just put in the full day with overtime instead. The sofa in the break room might be comfy enough to spend the night.

Tomorrow would be time enough to file separation papers and talk to Paul about the way forward. Counseling, or divorce. We had some decisions to make.

With that not-so-happy possibility running through my head, I stepped into the lobby and pasted a fake smile on my face.

"Good morning, Albert. How did Alicia do on her placement exams?" Albert manned the building's security desk as a side job to put his daughter through college. When he didn't flash me his usual smile, I should have known something was up.

Rising, he circled the desk to put himself between me and the elevator. “I’m sorry, Everly. I can’t let you go up.”

Lack of sleep was probably why it took me so long to clue in. “Why? Is something wrong with the office? Should I call maintenance?”

“No Ma’am. I have my orders. I’m to tell you your services are no longer needed, and I’m sorry. Well, that last part wasn’t an order, but it’s true.” He patted me kindly on the arm.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t form words.

“It’s shameful the way this is happening, but I did get them to let me gather up your things.” A slight widening of his eyes went along with the emphasis on certain words. Albert was trying to tell me something, and I was too numb to understand. While I stood there trying to make sense of it all, he handed me a small box with the African violet from my desk sticking out the top.

“I really am sorry,” Albert repeated and offered to carry the box to my car.

“I’ve got it, thanks.” Back to feeling fragile, I didn’t trust myself to keep from blubbering all over him. “Give Alicia my best wishes. She will do well in school; I just know it.” The effort to smile cost me plenty, and when I made it back to my car, I had trouble relaxing my mouth. Pulling in a few deep breaths, I put the box in the back and slid into the driver’s seat. My hand trembled so hard it took two tries to slide the key into the ignition switch.


Cheated on and then fired. It was only 9:00 am. What next? How could my day get worse?

Just a tip from me to you. Banish that last question from your vocabulary. It can always get worse. In my case, worse meant getting tangled up in a murder, but at the time, I thought I'd hit the bell at the top of the lousy day scale.

It didn't occur to me until I was sitting in front of him, hardly able to comprehend what he was telling me, that consulting my husband's business attorney might not be the best idea.

“But he’s been cheating on me.” I figured if I repeated it enough times, Winston Durham would stop looking at me like something he’d scraped off his shoe.

He didn't, and the news went from bad to worse. By taking a night away, I'd abandoned my husband who had decided to file for divorce. What's more, he was invoking our prenuptial agreement, and other than the small sum of money my aunt had left me, I was being put out on the street with nothing but my personal items. 

My Grammie Dupree had been a five-foot-nothing bundle of dynamite, and though the past few hours hadn’t been any proof, she’d passed some of her fire down to me. 

I flared. “I came to you for advice on how to handle a difficult situation, not to see how much money I could squeeze out of Paul on my way out the door. Yesterday I was a happily married woman, today I feel like a wrecking ball laid my life to ruins, and you’re acting like I was the one running the controls.”

As a boon, I was told, Paul would pay for the divorce even though he was not required to do so.

“So many young people make the mistake of signing contracts without reading them thoroughly. I can provide you with a copy of the agreement, and I’ve already drawn up the dissolution papers for you to sign.”

I should have been surprised at how fast Paul had moved, but really, nothing could shock me anymore, except maybe if he wanted me to sign the papers in blood. Fury helped push me back from the emotional hole trying to form under my feet.

I just wanted Winston to stop talking so I could sign what I needed to sign and walk out of his office before I said something I’d regret.

But no, he droned on about things and money. All the stuff I cared nothing about. I'd gone there with the idea of initiating a trial separation while Paul and I, together, decided what to do with our marriage. According to Winston, all the decisions had been made without me, and I'd been cast as some sort of villain.

I probably should have argued more, but I’d pretty much hit my limit and needed to concentrate on the details because the landscape was getting my dander up and there wasn’t a bucket of ice water handy.

Between teeth gritted hard enough to make my jaw ache, I said, “Give me the papers. I’ll sign them now, pack up my car, and be out of the house by the end of the day.” 

A mental estimate had me leaving behind most of my fancier clothes to fit in all of my books and the only piece of furniture I owned. That was fine; I doubted I’d have a use for expensive ball gowns in my new life anyway.

I should have known there’d be another twist.

Winston didn’t even have the decency to look sorry as he slid a sheaf of papers out of a folder and laid them in front of me. He’d even taken the time to attach the little flags indicating where I was supposed to sign. They fluttered as the pages landed on the desk. 

“As the car was purchased and registered in Paul’s name, it counts as a marital asset. You’ll need to make other transportation arrangements.”

Sucking back an anatomically impossible suggestion for where my freak-weasel soon-to-be ex could park the car—hopefully with his lawyer behind the wheel—I signed the papers. Glowering, I retrieved my plant from the back seat, stalked back inside, tossed the keys on the desk, and walked out of the office.

It had taken just about a half hour to strip away all but the shreds of my dignity, and leave me with a headache threatening my temples.

What was I supposed to do now?

I stood on the sidewalk contemplating that question until standing still seemed silly. My grandmother swore the Dupree women were made from sterner stuff than most, and now that I was about to go back to being one again, this was my chance to prove her right.

Winston Durham wasn't the only lawyer I knew, and he wasn't the smartest.

Resigned, I called in a favor.

Now, for the giveaway!! To enter to win an ebook copy of Ghost Mortem, comment with your answer to the following question:

What was the name of the hotel Everly stayed in after she caught her husband cheating?

The winner will be announced on March 24th at 5 pm EST.

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